We had a sour pie cherry tree in the backyard. The cherries would ripen in the summer, alongside Frank’s, our neighbor on the back fence. His were bing cherries. He had to put nets up to keep the birds out. We didn’t really have to do that, although sometimes there were worms. They were too tart to eat right off the tree.
Dad would pick bucketfuls of the sour pie cherries and we would sit at the dining room table and pit them with paper clips and put them in plastic baggies to freeze. Sometimes Mom would make cherry pies with them. When I was in high school, Dad got a plastic tool — a cherry pitter — that just pushed the pit out of the cherry, easy peasy.
There was a woman from our church — she was tall and chatty but I can’t remember her name — who would come and pick the cherries sometimes. We’d come home from church on Sunday or from an errand on Saturday and she’d be in the backyard with a ladder picking cherries. It was easy to get through our gate. My parents had told her she was allowed to do it. I thought she was so audacious and friendly and I really liked her.
My older sister loved the Queen Anne’s Chocolate Covered Cherries that only seemed to come out on Valentine’s Day. I think she got a box from an admirer at some point during our adolescence. They had a sort of magic air to them, like a romantic mystery I would never understand.
They were still a holiday treat, it seemed. Maybe it was Christmas, maybe it was Valentine’s Day. It was definitely a winter purchase. Dad would buy a box for Mom and we’d all have one.
They lost their sheen eventually because you could just get them from the grocery store. They weren’t that fancy.
My older sister also loved Maraschino cherries and kept a jar in the fridge. They were hers — no one else was allowed to touch them. I don’t know how often she ate them. They were sweet and plasticky, and you could mix the syrup in ice cream. The deep red of the jar and the fruit were unbelievable. They were more a symbol of cherries than cherries themselves, just like adolescents declaring love were playing at the thought rather than really understanding it.
Cherry Wheat Beer
One of my high school boyfriends lived in New Jersey when I lived there, too. He came to visit my then-boyfriend and I for a poker night we hosted. One of our friends had brewed a cherry wheat beer. The high school boyfriend revealed he couldn’t possibly drink any — he was deathly allergic to cherries. It was July and I had put out a bowl of cherries for everyone to have, as well. I was embarrassed.
I walked him to the train at the end of the night and thought how strange it was that I had known someone very intimately but not known he was deathly allergic to something I found so normal.
I like bourbon quite a bit, and in the winter I drink Manhattan cocktails, with sweet vermouth and a Maraschino cherry, but a high-end type, maybe a black cherry. When I make them at home I add a touch of the juice to sweeten it just a small bit. Last night I ordered a second Manhattan at the bar where I had met a friend. The friend had already left to pick her foster child up from youth group, so I sat alone at the bar and talked to the bartender a bit. He asked if I’d like another and I told him this was it for me. He went to take my glass and I stopped him.
I still had to eat the cherry, I told him.
It’s the best part.