Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Life is A Bowl of Cherries - As Long As You Avoid the Pits!


Cherries have been eaten for centuries, and have long been a part of popular culture. Erma Bombeck made us all smile when she said “If life is a bowl of cherries, what am I doing in the pits?”. Shakespeare saw them as the stuff of desire, and in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, had Demetrius describe Helena’s lips as “kissing cherries”.

As for me, cherries are one of my favourite fruits. When I was a little girl, my Aunt had a cherry tree. I remember her picking cherries from it for me when I was too short to reach them. They were sweet cherries and we used to have to be careful to get them before the birds did. Double cherries were the best. My Aunt used to pick them carefully so they did not separate and put them over our ears as earrings. Of course they did not stay on our ears long; we could never resist eating them.

I also remember my Dad buying a box of those chocolates with maraschino cherries and liqueur in them for his secretary every Christmas. He would always get an extra box to bring home for us to share. For me, these were just the biggest treat imaginable. Nothing beats the taste of dark chocolate followed by the lovely warm hit of cherry brandy, and finally the soft gorgeous maraschino cherry melting deliciously in your mouth. It is such a vivid memory that although I have not had one for years I can taste them now.

I don’t know whether it is just those good memories influencing me, but cherries always seem like a really special treat. Most of all, I love cherry pie. I remember making one for my husband not long after we were married. The pie turned out beautifully and I served it very proudly, but for the first time in our marriage, my husband refused to eat something I had cooked. And to be fair he had battled his way through some “interesting” dishes in those early days when I was learning to cook. “I don’t like cherry pie,” he insisted. I was desperate for him to try it but he would not be swayed. He would not be drawn on the reason either and watched quizzically as I thoroughly enjoyed every bite of the piece I cut for myself.

I was not very happy that my attempt at domesticity had been rejected (especially as the pie really was delicious) and as a result that was the last time I made a cherry pie for many years. I’d treat myself to cherries from time to time, and after our son was born and old enough to hear the earring story, he and I would happily share a pint of cherries –popping the double ones on our ears as earrings just like I used to with my Aunt. Yet still my husband refused to eat my favourite fruit. He might cautiously eat one or two fresh cherries, but he really was not enamoured of them. Whenever I made Christmas cakes, he would encourage me to make a recipe that did not include glace cherries, and he always passed on the cherry jam I loved to spread on my morning toast.

Having said that, it is not like we had cherries a lot. Even in season, they are terribly expensive. Although they have a long growing season and will grow nearly anywhere, the labour involved in growing cherries along with their propensity to damage from rain, hail and birds makes them relatively expensive to produce and of course that cost is passed on to the consumer. I guess that is another reason they have always seemed like such a treat to me.

It seems virtually everyone I have ever met likes cherries, so I could never understand my husband’s aversion to them. It didn’t matter what it was, if it hd cherries, he did not want to eat it. It was not until we were at a dinner party some years later where the only dessert on offer was homemade cherry pie that I was to find out. This was one of those important dinner parties where to refuse dessert would not only have been seen as rude, it also would have been a grave political error. It was only as my cut gingerly into his unfortunately generous serving of cherry pie that I learned the reason behind my husband’s aversion to this famous fruit.

It turns out not everyone has such happy memories of cherries from their childhood. Apparently, the first and only time my husband ate cherry pie as a child it was made from scratch by someone who genuinely did not realise you had to remove the pits from cherries before putting them in a pie (or perhaps simply ran out of patience when doing so) and the teeth aching conclusion to his dessert put him off them completely. So he was pleasantly surprised on this later occasion to find that the pie he was eating not only had no pits in it, it was actually quite delicious.

Not long after that I risked putting glace cherries in a Christmas cake. My husband loved it. And the other day I made an almond and cherry loaf cake in which the glace cherries were clearly visible - and he said it was one of the nicest loaf cakes I had ever made.

Yet my beloved still won’t willingly eat cherry pie. Whoever made that pie all those years ago has a lot to answer for! He never did reveal to me who it was except to say it was no one from his immediate family. I hope whoever it was discovered that cherries are lovely without pits, but with them they perfectly illustrate Shakepeare’s assertion that “Things sweet to taste prove in digestion sour”.

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