Thursday, August 11, 2016

Chokin’ On Chokecherries

Based on her first and last visit here about three years ago, my sister, Shelly, would tell you I refuse to turn on the central air – no matter what.  Just because I responded, “it will cool down tonight,” when she politely hinted, “it’s a little warm in here,” as the sweat trickled down her temple and pooled in her ear canal, I’m pretty sure she thinks I wouldn't turn it on because I’m too cheap to pay the higher electric bill.   I don’t know where she could have gotten that idea.  I buy the almost highest quality box wine I can find and I don't cover the holes in my gardening gloves with duct tape because I'm too cheap to buy a new pair.  I do it because it makes them sturdier. 

Anyway, that’s in the past because this summer has been so hot I actually turned on the air conditioning for a couple of hours – twice!  And Dean turned it on a bunch of times – sometimes for several hours at a time.  I would have survived without it but it does feel pretty okay to walk into a cool house and have the sweat on my body quickly dry leaving only an imperceptible layer of salt on my skin.  

The heat hasn't been good for my mood but it has been good for ripening the berries our 5,628,173 chokecherry trees.   

The birds and deer have been feasting on all those fat juicy berries, and even Angus grabbed a mouthful of berries once during his search for the perfect place to hike his leg.  Last year Dean picked and processed the chokecherries all by himself but this year I magnanimously offered to help.  And he took me up on my offer.  Wait, what?!  He made us each a high-tech chokecherry container (patent pending) out of an old milk jug and off we went into the chokecherry jungle.  Even though it felt like 125 degrees outside, we girded our loins, donned our armor and bravely got scratched, scraped and gouged as we picked pounds and pounds of fruit. 

I was carefully picking each berry one by one, gently dropping them into my special chokecherry vessel when Dean walked over and said, “no, no, no, no, no, do it like this,” grabbed a branch with one hand, grasped a handful of berries with his other hand and stripped them off straight into the special chokecherry container. 

Boy that speeded things up.  It wasn’t long until my special chokecherry container was so full I had to waddle into the house cradling it just like a pregnant belly. 

Then the real work began.  It broke my heart when Dean, aka Mr. Smucker, told me he wouldn’t let me stir the boiling pot of splattering berries or scoop the simmering liquid into scalding jars ...

Splatter burn and beard splatter.  Yech.

but he would let me help sort the berries with stems from the berries without stems. 

It was okay if the berries he used to make jam and syrup had stems, but the 20 pounds of berries Abby asked us to bring her so she can make chokecherry mead this winter ... they had to be stemless. 

My alcohol supplier.
I hope this winter Dean invents a special chokecherry sorter. 

When the cooking and processing was in full swing the whole house was so steamy and hot I felt like I was back in the Ecuadorian Amazon, except there were no monkeys chattering at me as they jumped from branch to branch.  Not that we didn’t have our own wildlife.  Our wild animals were just so hot they sprawled out like road kill, the only movement being their oscillating eyeballs as they kept a lookout, hoping for random chunks of food to drop miraculously right in front of their noses

Angus thinking maybe a carrot will drop out of the sky.

Baxter hoping a currant muffin or the box the currants came in or a piece of rubber ...
or a hair tie, or anything, anything at all will fall from the sky and land by his mouth.

Sophie is waiting for her dinner to appear on a silver platter.  And Maisie ...
the lump under the blanket ... she's part ostrich and just doesn't care.
Mr. Smucker suffered some complications during his jam processing.  There were remarks about where that liquid pectin could go and how it could get there, disparaging comments about poor directions and other words and phrases I feel are best left unprinted.   Those jam batches that stubbornly refused to thicken and set were renamed syrup. So now we have lots of chokecherry jam and lots and lots and lots and lots of chokecherry syrup. 

There's even more.  I was just too lazy to take a more recent picture.

Dean was driven to find relief from his jam and syrup stress through fire and alcohol.  I'd recently read that any webworms growing on the chokecherry trees should be removed and disposed of.  Next thing you know he was outside, evil glint in his eyes, brandishing his loppers.  He piled up the branches with squirmy worms encased in webs, poured gasoline on them, lit them on fire and chanted and hooted as he danced around the flames. 

Can you picture it?  Dean dancing and hooting around a fire? 

Dancin' and hootin'!

You know that didn’t happen.  He just burned them up, meticulously cleaned up the charred worm bodies and ashes and then, inside a cool air conditioned house, he made chokecherry brandy, gin and vodka.   

In a month or so we can try it.  I hope it’s good, because if my sister ever does come back out to visit me, if I ply her with enough of that chokecherry liquor, maybe she won’t notice if I haven’t turned on the air conditioning.



nina said...

Jealous! I left my chokecherries to the birds this year since we moved to CT last week! I will miss my jelly, syrup & wine! We will be tapping the maples for syrup though!

Abby said...

I think you seriously need to consider a farmers market booth next year.

Jorge is drooling in anticipation of more jam.

Art Elser said...

I am so glad you are now retired, Cathy. The rest seems to be doing you good. I don't see that you are so busy now, baking cookies for worker bees you kept hiring to justify all that baking. ;-)