Friday, July 2, 2010

Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?

Something about the 4th of July makes me crave cherry pie. As soon as I mentioned it, my husband dashed to the store and bought the ingredients, so he appears to be motivated too. So I’m more or less committed to it now. At least they aren’t terribly difficult, now that we have all the modern conveniences like canned syrupy cherries and pre-made pie crust.

We were just talking about the hassle of making a cherry pie from fresh cherries yesterday. The “kitchen is fun” stores like Williams-Sonoma and Sur le Table probably have cherry pitters. I’ve seen the modern ones and they don’t seem that different from the antique cherry pitters we had for sale in my mom’s shop. I was always fascinated with all that antique kitchen gadgetry, the apple peelers, the cherry pitters.

As a child, I could never understand these as being modern conveniences in themselves. You had to place the piece of fruit just right and it really needed to be the right size and shape. Of course nothing about the pitters and peelers eliminated the work of picking, washing, taking the stems off, etc. What was so convenient about having a machine to do just the one task?

When I lived in Southern Illinois, one of the beauties of that area was the abundance of fruit and the availability of “U-Pick” fields. The summer I divorced my first husband was especially an adventure for me.

OK, I admit that it’s probably not the best thing to say that getting divorced was an exciting adventure. Compared to the last two years of my first marriage, however, it was like summer camp. I had left “Archie Bunker” and moved into a cute little two-bedroom house with dreadful long shag carpets. The kitchen was big, even the pantry was big enough to put all my books and a chair in it along with the usual pantry stuff. I had a living room, an enclosed front porch, a pleasant pink and green bedroom, bath and a second-bedroom office. It was just enough for me, my two cats and my parakeet.

It was the first time I had ever lived completely on my own, too. Aside from the ongoing annoyance of working out the terms of my divorce, I enjoyed it. My mother was still alive and was taken by a new show called Hill Street Blues. She couldn’t stand it that I couldn’t afford cable TV so had it installed for me so we would have more to talk about. We both loved the undercover cop who bit people and the Three Guys Garbage ruse and the romance between the prosecuting attorney and the police chief.

When the strawberries came into season, I put on my best grubbies and set out for the U-Pick fields. I had to go early to avoid the deathly summer heat and humidity, so it was coolish and humid, that peculiar in-between clammy fog of Southern Illinois mornings that can render your clothes sopping wet in minutes just from the air. I got my crate from the U-Pick office and set about crawling up and down the strawberry rows on my hands and knees in search of that bright red treasure. I picked 17 pounds of strawberries.

It didn’t occur to me that 17 pounds of strawberries was, well, an awful lot of strawberries for one person, even one person with two cats and a parakeet. I was sopping wet, heavy with humidity and manual labor, and proudly took my harvest home. I cleaned and topped them all by hand, literally using my thumbnail to take off the green caps to prepare them for freezing. In the process, I probably ate something like 7 of the 17 pounds, too.

This falls under my category of it being best to learn from the mistakes of others. Whatever you do, don’t eat 7 pounds of strawberries at once. Trust me. The human digestive system has a way of dealing with this. A friend of mine refers to The Night of the Long Knives.

Well before that Big Night, the Big Day of picking and cleaning the strawberries was hard enough. For one thing, I had some pretty dreadful laundry to do after creating my own mud from humidity soaked blue jeans crawling on rich, black earth. I was in pretty good shape then, so there wasn’t much of a sore-muscle penalty, at least. But in topping the strawberries by hand, I did pull the skin under my thumbnail away from the nail.  It stung every time I bumped it, ran water on it or maybe even breathed. But man, oh man, there were strawberries!

The thumbnail part of the penalty phase made me appreciate, finally, what the convenience of the cherry pitter and apple peeler could be. While I don’t think I ever saw a strawberry topper gadget, while nursing my sore thumb and rumbling tummy I started to think of possibilities that never materialized.

Years later, one 4th of July, I remembered the Strawberry Fields Forever and decided to make a cherry pie. Canned cherry pie filling, frozen pie crusts, the easy way, I thought. There was one little drawback to my plan. I had had surgery on my right hand which was in stitches and a stiff brace. It’s my very dominant hand and it was rendered as useful as a doorstop for three weeks or so. I was confident. After all, I had learned to brush my teeth with my left hand, so why not bake a cherry pie? I was inspired by true stories of people who have overcome inconveniences and challenges and I was up to the task.

After a couple of hours of foul language and flinging ingredients and implements around my small kitchen, I had indeed baked a cherry pie. Since one of my ill-fated moves in the process was to tear the top crust so that it could not be used without being completely reworked, I decided it would be cool to have one of those lattice tops of crisscrossed strips of crust. It wasn’t Martha Stewart-level innovation, but it did work. I proudly took it to my friend’s backyard barbecue and we enjoyed what I thereafter called Marcia’s Left-Handed Cherry Pie. It was delicious.

With the 4th of July just around the corner, I’m in the mood for cherry pie again. I don’t have to pit the cherries or pick them. Both my hands have survived surgery well enough; I just have to remember that the left one has that nerve damage that makes me think I have a grip on things when I really don’t. I have lots of room in my current kitchen and an ever-willing assistant in my husband, Mr. Right.

Like the poor dear in the 8 of Swords, I really do have the ability to rise above the constraints put upon me and even those I put upon myself. I could insist that I have Martha-like perfection and be constantly disappointed by my failures. Or I can free myself of my own perfectionist ideas and focus on my goal: Cherry pie. Hey, it’s a cherry pie, for goodness’ sake. And I don't even have to do it with one hand tied behind my back this time.  Let Freedom ring!

Best wishes!


  1. And the pie is out of the oven and on the cooling rack! Mmmm, that lovely smell!

  2. I actually own a strawberry topper thing. :) I don't remember where I bought it though.

    Happy 4th!
    Ruth Ann

  3. @Ruth Ann, can you possibly send me a photo of it? I would love to see it!