The year you can’t give away cherries

I never thought I’d live to see the day when a prairie-raised kid would say, “I can’t eat another cherry.” But here I am.

Due to some magical combination of conditions in May our six cherry trees blossomed, producing a bumper crop this season. That’s never happened before. Usually the trees blossom into a cloud of pink, holding out great promise, only to drop most of the blossoms and later much of the developing green fruit.

But not this year. From the lowest branches drooping almost to the ground to the highest branches nearly brushing hydro lines, there was no space for additional stems of fruit.

Two of the youngest trees, offshoots of the original sour cherry trees, grow small sweet cherries that I gradually picked a handful at a time for fresh desserts. I was able to bend down the highest branches to well within reach. The higher branches of the mature trees were beyond my grasp.

Two neighbours climbed ladders to pick their fill for jam. Another friend stood in the box of my truck after I backed it as close as possible into the tree without breaking branches or trampling young lilacs. Only a six-foot folding ladder in the truck box would ever manage the topmost branches. Perversely, birds prefer to peck the lower fruit when they could be helpful higher up.

Typical of gardening, everything is ready to harvest at once. This year saskatoon bushes planted 43 years ago enjoyed perfect growing conditions and were ready for picking at the same time as the cherries. The crop was so prolific branches drooped to within 18 inches of the ground from the weight of the fruit. Berries were big, juicy, unblemished. Scarcely a bug or a spider web appeared. Again I picked a pound or two a day, cleaned, and packaged two cups at a time for my fridge top freezer. They’ll cook up nicely for pancake toppings or two packages together should fill a pie shell.

I knew of only one person with any interest in saskatoons and she came over to pick with me.

The berries left are gradually shrivelling and as they do, the branches become lighter allowing them to slowly return to their regular upright position.

Besides the bumper crop of exceptionally blemish-free fruit, it’s the first time I could ever pick saskatoons on a mown lawn in my backyard rather than fighting my way through badger brush in a cow pasture several miles from home.

In dry years when saskatoons were scarce it was common to drive eight or 10 miles to reach a bush with a decent crop. The family would march in, us kids with honey or syrup pails tied around our waist, to pick every berry not riddled by bugs.

The single hazard in my backyard is the steep slope which makes the saskatoon bushes taller than they otherwise would be, and risky to reach. The slope beneath the bushes is covered with dry pine needles that can be as slippery as mud … until you become impaled on an acacia spike.

Spikes the length and sharpness of a porcupine quill march along each acacia branch.

As I stretched to snag a well laden saskatoon branch I slipped on dry pine needles and plopped down on one of the “quills”. How those puncture wounds smart.

Leaving fruit unpicked just offends my upbringing.

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