When I left home at nineteen I swore I'd never eat cherry pie again. You know how great statements go at nineteen - about a month later I needed mom’s cherry pie.
I was raised in a farm family where women cooked for farmers; dinner was in the middle of the day, meat, potatoes and gravy was a staple, and at least a couple of pies would be made daily.
In addition, we hailed from Swiss German farmers aka Pennsylvania Dutch. The food traditions of this group were hardy and specific. Typically, we ate what we grew and we grew a bounty in that beautiful black Indiana soil.
Farm wives knew they had to have large hardy meals to keep their men strong and healthy for the many farm chores. AND all of us have a sweet tooth. Breakfast, dinner and supper ended with a sweet. In our house it was pie.
I didn't even know you could buy pie because I took it for granted home-made pie was what everyone had on hand. Even better, I knew if company was coming the pie would include a healthy dollop of vanilla ice cream as the snack.
Although Lemon Meringue pie is still my favorite, we always had at least one cherry pie made at all times. It was Dad’s favorite and women made what their men liked best.
We may not have fresh locally grown lemons available, but, we certainly can grow cherries in our back yards. Large spaces can accommodate many varieties. Small spaces can accommodate at least one dwarf cherry. All varieties have a beautiful shape, spring flowers, nectar for insects, and a bounty for the picking. (Exception: Some ornamentals, like weeping cherries trees, may not produce fruit)
What does a cherry tree need?
· They must have a cold/dormant season.
· Grow in full sun.
· Well drained soil – they will die if they have wet feet.
· If possible, add well cured manure to the fill hole when planting.
· Sour cherries are usually self pollinating. Sweet cherries need another cherry tree to pollinate.
· Sweet is usually eaten raw – sour for cooking.
· Make sure the variety you choose is for our hardiness zone – at least Zone 5. Sour cherry trees are more cold tolerant.
· Cherry trees require LOTS of water to establish and water during hot/dry years to help the cherries plump up.
· Birds can strip a tree of ripe cherries in less than half an hour. You must either net the fruit (and then check to make sure birds aren’t caught in the net) or use other means of protecting the fruit.
· Don’t let mulch touch the trunk - it will cause fungal disease. Fertilizing is usually a waste.
· Fruit will only come on spurs that are at least 2 years old. Be careful pruning.
· In some areas, cherry trees are prone to fungal attack, sometimes wood borers, and slugs. Specific oil sprays may be all you need in this area.
· They recover best from transplanting if they are planted in early spring or late autumn.
· Stake the tree if you live at a windy site. Remove the stake when the tree reaches one year to promote a healthy root system and strong trunk.
· Plant late blooming varieties so late frosts won’t destroy blossoms.
If you’ve never tasted a cherry pie made from fresh cherries – let me assure you it’s another whole eating experience from the sticky gooey tasteless mess some production pies offer. Most good cooks have at least one favorite cherry pie recipe. I’m betting our own Judy and Kay “Cookin’ with J & K” would be willing to share a few.