When Life Gives You….Tart Cherries!

My friend, who is also my landscaper (I’m giving a shout out to MeadowLark Landscaping) was instrumental in helping this novice mid-western gardener, who grew up in the lush zone 8 of the Pacific Northwest, transform this barren wasteland of a yard in to a paradise of privacy and beauty. My mandate, when she first started helping me pick out plants, was plant nothing that shed something which nature did not naturally consume or compost. Until a couple of years ago, other than my summer annual produce, it never occurred to me to have a tree or bush that produced something HUMANS would consume! She suggested a dwarf cherry.

“Too big,” I said. “I’m short, I’m not getting on a ladder to pick fruit.”

No, she convinced me, a dwarf cherry would be lovely on the corner of my house to create some privacy for the front door and as an added benefit I would have tart cherries to cook with.

Well, how can one turn that offer down?

So this is my little dwarf cherry tree. Cute, isn’t it?

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At it’s tippy top, I do have to reach up and pull the branches down for me to reach, but this is about as big as it will get. However, as it ages, it will become more productive.
[2015 update: I picked nearly 20 pounds this year. Tart Cherry Jelly will be canned soon!]

While cleaning out our garage for the up and coming graduation party, I noticed many of the berries were ripe. Having competed with (and lost) the ‘first dibs’ battle with robins before, I grabbed a tray and started picking. In the photo above, you can see there are still a lot left on the tree for a future use. Here is the fruit of my easy labor:

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For the remaining on the tree, after they have ripened, I’m thinking pickled cherries inspired from a blog I read by GlutenFree Girl and the Chef. She posted the link to the recipe by Matthew Amster-Burton on Gourmet, so when these babies ripen they are destined for pickling!

After a long hard day working in the garage and yard weeding, a sweet cherry treat is exactly what I was drooling for. Scanning the web for ideas, all but one seemed too time consuming and lengthy, dirtying too many dishes. Yes, I wanted dessert, no I didn’t want the mess after ‘cleaning’ all day. And since it was pushing 5pm, it had to be fast and easy. Reading endless critiques about tart cherry pies and that awful canned pie filling, it dawned on me….fresh cherry pie filling is not so different than macerated strawberries. What if i substituted fresh cherry filling for strawberries over a ‘shortcake’? YES! And what better to go with cherries than chocolate?

Normally I would make my famous cream scones, but I was looking for quick, easy and as little dish mess as possible. Pamela’s Pancake and Baking mix to the rescue. Since I happened to have a scone pan form (I bought it before I found Pamela’s Artisan Flour and perfected my traditional scones) it was easy to modify her simple recipe by adding chunks of chocolate, plop the blobs in and bake, turning them out to cool!  In minutes, with only a couple of dishes to do, I had dessert, fresh from my garden. Voila! A beautiful sight to behold!

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Easy Tart Cherry ‘Filling’

Approximately 2 generous cups of pitted tart cherries (be sure to pit over a bowl to catch the juices)

1/2 cup sugar

Juice of half an orange plus it’s zest

1 star anise (optional)

4 tsp GF Arrowroot starch

1/2 cup water-if needed. My cherries were extremely juicy.

Place in a 3-4 quart pan over a low heat and bring cherries to just under a boil, DO NOT BOIL. Make a slurry with the arrowroot (mix with a tablespoon of water to create an emulsion) and add to the cherries. Stir until combined, turning heat off. It should thicken quickly. (Do not boil, as this will weaken the arrowroot starch) Cool, refrigerate until needed, but you can serve it warm over ice cream too! NUM!)


Spring Showers Bring….

May flowers? 

Well it is May, and it is showering so I guess that is true, but about the only thing ‘flowering’ are those hardy tulips and daffodils. After an afternoon of garden cleanup on a record setting hot day for May, those were the only flashes of color I saw. Still, the ground has finally thawed and the perennials are struggling to catch up. 

I can’t say there is much I’m a fan of with respect to living here in the frozen hinterlands, however, an exception are the storms that roll in across the plains bringing thunder and lightening. 

Having grown up in the Pacific NW, We lack that broad open sky that the great plains affords. As such, lightening was not nearly as spectacular. Oh, as Oregonians we were ‘blessed’ with rain alright, lots and lots of rain. We natives jokingly teased newbies we were born with webbed feet. Lightening, however, was not nearly as associated with storms as it is here.

Here, the lightening can be seen for miles and what a spectacular show it is! There are three types of lightening that come to my mind. First are the traditional cloud to ground. The type I grew up with. Gigantic bolts followed by the ‘CRACK’, and sonic booms so loud the windows on my house shake and you can feel the concussion. I’ve had them so close to the house I feared we’d be struck. In fact, my neighbor was struck and it took out her power. We’ve had houses burn down with lightening strikes. With that type of lightening, we nearly always hear the sirens, warning people to get off the golf course and under cover. 

Second is the lightening that ‘crawls’ across the sky. It looks like a spider-web canopy of light filaments shooting across the sky. The clouds are high above with lightening underneath, a perfect backdrop to showcase its beauty. It’s breath-taking, and many times I stand at the window of my bedroom on the second floor so I can see the entire skyline and just take it all in. The thunder associated with this lightening is rolling, like the swells on the ocean. It’s more rhythmic and sounds almost like a tympani drum. This lightening is my favorite.

The last is what I’ll describe as flashlight tag by the angels. The clouds are like a blanket cover overhead and the flashes of lightening are high above them. All I see from my vantage point are pulses of light. It’s as if the angles themselves are playing flashlight tag high above our heads. Sometimes I can hear the distant rumbling of their feet, sometimes not. Sometimes I picture them tip toeing above the clouds, waiting to silently sneak up on their opponent. 

And so I sit here at my kitchen table sipping a steaming cup of coffee and watch the gentle rain, listening to the gentle rumble of thunder after a flash of light, I wonder what this spring season holds for us. Will we be the northern tip of tornado alley, bringing it’s thunder, lightening, wind and hail? Or will the good Lord give us a reprieve after a brutal winter. All I know is that winter has finally released it’s grip and summer is soon to follow. Halleluja. 

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Peanut Butter and Jam.

Peanut Butter and Jam.

Finally!
The breath of spring is in the air after a dreadfully long and brutal winter, a winter I feared would never end!
But at long last, it is here.

Peanut Butter and Jam?

I know you are all thinking: ‘What does a Lilac tree and peanut-butter have in common?’

Well to me, Lilacs and Spring go together like Peanut Butter and Jam.

With the arrival of spring, the windows of my house are thrown open, blowing out the doldrums of winter and infusing it with the fresh scent of spring. And it is not spring without the pungent smell of lilac wafting through those wide open windows.

With the late snows my tree is not yet in bloom, but it soon will be. And soon my house will be steeped in the aroma of spring.

Maybe I’ll have a PB&J just to celebrate.