It’s not every day I am mistaken for a moonshiner, but after Tuesday, I can’t honestly say it has never happened.
It’s all because my daughter’s favorite birthday cake takes six months to make. Her birthday is at the end of November, and she loves Black Forest cake, which requires brandied cherries, and one must get the cherries into the brandy while the cherries are in season, which is now. Then, six months later you bake the cake. So there’s not six months of work, but I have to take that first step six months in advance.
But last year I forgot, so come November I was trying to cadge some brandied cherries from everybody I know. I tried desperately to buy a pint from anyone who would sell. I tried to buy a quart, even offering to throw in a Black Forest cake as part of the purchase price, since one cake only requires a pint, and a quart would make two.
All to no avail. Only one friend of a friend had any, and she didn’t want to part with them. And I understand why. Once the season is over, brandied cherries are more precious than gold.
On Monday, that friend of a friend sent word to me that she had just put up her brandied cherries, and I’d better step to it if I didn’t want to find myself in the same mess this year as last. It’s a little embarrassing how much I must have annoyed the poor woman for her to make it a point to remind me to get my act together, all so I wouldn’t annoy the crap out of her half a year from now.
It was kind of funny too, but that didn’t stop me from running up to Cana on my lunch break Tuesday to score some cherries, after first calling to see if they take plastic as I rarely carry cash. They don’t, but they do take checks. Go figure. But being a man of ‘un certâin age’, I did have a check in my wallet.
Back to the moonshiner’s special.
When I get to the orchard, the lady asked me if I was buying the cherries to eat out of hand or make a pie because she had varieties suitable to each. I hesitated, because quite frankly, I planned to do both, plus a few more things including, but not limited to, brandying a quart of them.
I told her I wanted 4 pounds.
Not satisfied with my answer, she rephrased and asked me what I was going to do with the cherries.
“A lot of things,” I said, “but mostly I’m making brandied cherries.”
“Oh,” said she. “This is what you need,” walking over a little ways from the cherries on offer to a big packing box chock full of cherries. “These are the really ripe ones. They’re still good. But they’re really ripe.”
I was a little confused. Until I wasn’t.
“No,” I said to her. “I’m not making cherry brandy. I’m making brandied cherries.”
Now, it was her turn to look confused.
She must have thought I was a bashful moonshiner. Or maybe a cheap one, because her next words were, “Only a dollar a pound.”
Moonshiner or not, now I was interested.
“How many pounds you got there?”
She dragged the big box over to the scale and heaved it up on top.
It read 29.67. Before I could say anything, she started throwing handfuls of the fresher cherries on top until the scale read 30 pounds.
So I wrote a check for $30 and loaded the moonshine cherries into the trunk of my car.
I gave some away, stopped at Mom’s to give her a few pounds (she loves cherries and cherry pie) though she disapproves of moonshine, stopped at the liquor store to buy a fifth of brandy, then brought the rest of the cherries home and set in pitting them.
By the end of the evening, I had a half-gallon of cherries soaking up bottom-shelf brandy —enough to open a Black Forest bakery, if I so choose — but I had made barely a dent in the box of cherries, which, as you will recall, are very, very ripe. There is no time to waste.
So of course, I put out an SOS on the Facepage. Many friends recommended their favorite cherry-pitting gizmo, one said I should sell some of the excess cherries for $2 a pound and recoup some of my investment. So, I asked her if she’d like to buy some cherries at the low, low price of $2 a pound. Turns out, she could use two pounds. So now my investment has dropped down to $26, and the box of cherries is infinitesimally less full. I can’t find a cherry-pitter locally, and there’s no time to order one online as I can hear the big box of cherries rotting in the kitchen when my dear friend Omegia messages me that I can borrow her cherry pitter.
Well, that little gizmo is a miracle worker. Before long I was pitting the cherries so quickly that the micro-second it took to pull the stems off was slowing me down. My luck holds, and a friend drops by, what with it being cocktail hour and all, so I made him a drink and put him in charge of washing and de-stemming while I continued to work the cherry pitter like a madman.
Now, we were really going to town, and were almost finished by the time he finished his third cocktail and quality began to suffer.
I decided the remaining cherries look like they have a high probability of surviving until the next day, and my untouched glass of wine began to sing to me. (I told you I had been going to town with the cherry pitter.)
So all’s well that ends well (except for the creepy, intrusive cherry pitter ads stalking me on the interwebs, but that’s another story for another day.) Before next cherry season rolls around, I’m going to try and meet a real moonshiner and find out how they deal with the cherry pit situation. Surely, they have a plan in place, and next year I will too.
Reach Bill at 336-415-4699.