What’s it Like to Pick? Heidi Recaps a Sour Cherry Adventure

This past Saturday morning came bright and warm, but not too hot, perfect weather for my first Not Far From The Tree fruit pick. As I rode my bike to the pick location, I wondered what the day would hold.

As I turned onto my street in the Gerrard & Carlaw area, I saw a small group of people standing outside a house. This must be the place, I thought. I was greeted warmly by Julian, our Supreme Gleaner or pick leader. He introduced me to the other pickers and we waited for the rest of the group to arrive. There were seven of us in total, including Julian.

We knocked on the homeowners’ door, but were greeted only by a big yellow Lab. So we unloaded our cargo bike and brought the gear into the backyard. There, we all stood in awe in the shade of a giant sour cherry tree. The fruit was mostly bright red and there was a lot of it. We couldn’t wait to get started.

But first thing’s first. Julian had told us that the first step would be to clean up the ground of compostable debris. This is because any fruit was to fall from the tree while we were picking it would be there for the taking should we wish, and cleaning up beforehand would make the windfall easier to collect.

Cleanup done, we all headed up a rickety set of wooden steps to a second-storey verandah, where the tree branches hung within reach. We swept the surface clean up there too, then got started picking. Some of us carried yogurt containers or shopping bags to collect what we picked. There was also one picking basket, brought up from the cargo bike, that served to dump compostables. Any rotting or overripe fruit we saw, we picked and tossed in there. Periodically, someone would gather up the fruit that had plunked down onto the porch, and deposit it into a container we designated as windfall. The reason for the separation is because in some cases, fruit that has fallen to the ground may not be the cleanest, so it’s recommended to give it an extra good cleanse before use.

After a short time, we realized that we would need some help getting up into the higher branches. Julian was able to use his considerable height to gently pull down some of the bigger boughs. The rest of us would clamour around him, plucking down the ruby-coloured berries, trying to get the stems with them if possible, as they last longer that way.

I confess to have tasted some of the bounty when I was supposed to be working. The flesh of the fruit was soft and warm from the sun and tasted like candy – sweet, but with a pleasant tartness. I could imagine sour cherry piemuffins, or a fancy tipple.

After about an hour of picking, we realized that it was getting to be more and more difficult to reach the cherries, even with the telescopic picking baskets that came with our gear, so Julian suggested we go down to the ground for a break. On his way to the pick, Julian had gone by Bonjour Brioche and brought us croissants, pain du chocolats, and these custardy blueberry doughnut thingies, making him the most supreme of Supreme Gleaners in all of our minds.

After stuffing our faces with pastries, we took a look around the property to see if perhaps we could find a ladder. There was a wooden one hanging on the fence, but safety first – it did not pass the inspection. Back we all headed to the verandah to see if there was any more fruit to be picked. After only a few minutes, we realized that additional sour cherries were not to be.

Still, we did OK. 16.5lbs was the final weigh-in with a generous 5lbs going to the homeowners, 5lbs going to the St. John Mission, and the rest shared amongst the volunteers. Julian opted out saying that he had so many cherry preserves in his pantry that if he brought anymore home, his wife would kill him.

All in all, it was a very pleasant way to spend a Saturday morning, meeting new people, having lovely conversation, while happily making good use of nature’s sweet bounty. Can’t wait to do it again soon.

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