On Wednesday I left the office a little earlier than normal and drove about ten minutes out of town to a U-pick orchard. It’s sour cherry season here in the midwest, and an amazing fruit for pie and jam, which sells for well over $5 a pound in New York, was going for $1.40 a pound here…if I provided the labor of picking them. Thrown in with the price: washing water and putting the cherries through a really cool industrial pitter. It looked something like this, although much more battered and antique:

I got to the orchard at about 3 pm. When I drove up, they handed me a 5-gallon bucket and pointed me towards the trees, warning me that it was getting towards the end of the season and there weren’t a lot left. This turned out to be true; a lot of the most easily accessible cherries were long gone. Many trees were stripped nearly bare from the ground to the height a tallish person could reach. (After the u-pick season closes, probably tomorrow, professional pickers come in with more equipment and get everything that’s left, including the many, many cherries above person-height.)

It was a perfectly sunny afternoon, not too hot, blue sky, clouds, and there were only a few other people out picking. I took my bucket and wandered towards the back corner of the orchard. I don’t think there were any entirely untouched trees, even back there, but there were more cherries for sure, so I started to pick. Because it was so late, most of the cherries weren’t at a height that was natural for me, so I spent a lot of time reaching up and down and twisting to duck between branches and get cherries that were a little less accessible.

I’m not that romantic about farm work — it’s really hard, often brutally underpaid, and I have mad respect for anyone who does it all the time; I can’t imagine what it does to the body over the long term. But I have to say, it was an incredibly pleasurably hour. It was so quiet back there, just a few human voices, no traffic sounds, and it was so satisfying to be doing work that I knew would directly lead to some really fantastic pies over the course of the summer! I spend so much of my time, both work and personal, disconnected from the outside; my current office doesn’t even have a window. It felt great to just bathe in it, to be completely centered in the moment. Without planning to, I started to meditate, thinking about the concept of gleaning. Before the advent of modern industrial machinery, even the most professional harvesters always left something behind in the field. The task of gathering in the last scraps of edible food was usually left to women and children. I’m not as poor as the poor Leviticus speaks of, but I did think about all the women who had gone through fields before me, for thousands and thousands of years, bringing home the fruits of their labor, all the harvest that the first pass hadn’t bothered to collect.

This is what 17 pounds of sour cherries look like, by the way, after they’ve been pitted and portioned out into quart bags for freezing.

3 thoughts on “Gleaning

  1. debt debs says:

    Wow, they’re really red. Ours are more purple looking.

    1. Sour cherries are a lot brighter than sweet ones — the sweet ones are dark red/purple. I love the color, like maraschino cherries. They almost glow!

  2. I just finished having a handful of sweet cherries with lunch. And I paid an arm and a leg for them… $4/lb! I hate pitting cherries, so that machine sounds amazing. I would totally do that if there was one close to me. Now I need to go look!

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