On cherries and happiness

This is a story about fruit and about the countryside and happiness. The weekends and holidays I’ve spent outside the city are some of my best childhood memories. Wandering around, tasting every wild plant, running barefoot, rolling around in the puddles and then on sand (so-called crumbling!), lying flat on the meadow, gathering wild mushrooms, climbing trees, steering clear of the serious looking cows, drinking deliciously cold water from the well and last, but definitely not least, picking fruit. Red gooseberries, plums, first sweet-sour “close” apples from my grandparents’  apple tree, wild blackberries. There also were our own black currants, apples and my favorite, sour cherry orchard. As weird as it may sound, fruit are a part of my identity and I can’t imagine my life without them. Surprisingly, when searching through the family photo archives that are full of pictures from holiday trips, I couldn’t find even one from the childhood times in the orchards. All I have is a portrait with an apple tree from my later, teen years.

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Marcin did not spend as much time in the countryside as I did, yet he also is a fruit lover. After all, he is a grandson of a passionate professor that specialized in apple cultivation and a master of preparing fruit vodkas. Even better, bearing the name Sadowski, which comes from the Polish word “sad” (nothing sorry about it) that, in fact, translates as “an orchard”, I guess he had no other choice…

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I like to pick all fruit but my fondest memories are those of sour cherry harvest. With strawberries, it was always being bent, with apples moving around and carrying heavy buckets and crates, while the black currants were full of ugly worms. The cherries though are pure bliss. When my mind is trying to escape far away as usual, the grass tickles my feet, the smell of leaves and the juice that flows down my sleeve remind me of the here and the now. It all happens so very gently, and there is still space to fantasize between the conversations and singing. I love sour cherries and other sour fruit: it’s an explosion of taste, completely different from the tropical super sweetness which can make me nauseous sometimes.

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For many years now, we’ve traveled together for the summer holidays, missing out on at least a part of summer crops. We also were fascinated by foreign tastes, sometimes forgetting about the local fruit. I always thought of sour cherries as a Polish fruit. It turns out I was quite right. Wikipedia told me that even though we are the fourth in the world considering the acreage of the cultivation, in the sheer number of collected tons of cherries, we are number one. Our stay in Southeast Asia unleashed in me a great yearning for Polish sour fruit. Upon our return in the spring, I already impatiently awaited the summer. And now the cherries came to me, in the form of a facebook event of sour cherry picking. Then it was my move and I went outside of Warsaw to meet them. The hosts were lovely, the area beautiful and most importantly, the orchard was like a balm to my soul.

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I pit the cherries and cook them very slowly, making breaks until the preserves are naturally thick. I add sugar to taste, only at the end. I did the same with strawberries and black currants (marvelous!), and I will do so with plums, apples and pears as well. My mother is canning like crazy and I am following in her footsteps. One jar of such preserves fits almost 1,5 kilograms of cherries! And with them, I can my childhood memories, the story of the beautiful cherry-picking day, of searching through bowls full of fruit for the remaining pits (be careful while eating!), of the exhausting summer heat and the steaming pans. Some people just eat and enjoy, and I am jealous of their experience, not burdened by any inner dialogue. I sincerely am!!! Probably it was meant to be this way. But I am unable to do that, and accept the accusation of making things more complicated. But let me be myself. I am not afraid of any food but I don’t buy supermarket jams, nor many other products. I simply can’t put the symbol of equality between two jars so different. And I can only offer something good to others. So, to be satisfied with food, I have to dig deeper sometimes and, to tell the truth, my taste buds quickly adapted to goodness.

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Apart from the cherry preserves, there has to be a cherry tart. Occasionally, I am interested in sumptuousness but as far as summer and cherries are concerned, the case is clear: simplicity rules. Make shortbread, bake it for a while, put some cherries on top, quite a lot, actually. Sweeten with whatever you find appropriate. Bake once more. Consume at the meadow.

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Next time we’ll try to make fruit vodkas, based on instructions left by Grandpa. For now, we’ve run out of cherries. Constantly pursuing happiness and dreaming of grander plans for a bright future I was again hit in the head by a glass jar. Happiness is somewhere along that road, in an orchard, in the kitchen, on a picnic. Yo!

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