Thursday, July 5, 2012


A Tale Of Pits and Stems in Paradise       

Pop in mouth,  crunch down, chew up, expel pit, repeat... that's the cherry experience. I  swoon, but for green bin, it's the pits.

My beloved Monterey Market

I first rolled into Berkeley in my '67 Saab on Memorial Day 1971. Within days, I discovered the Co-op grocery,  that bastion of 60's and 70s Berzerkleyness,  and entered a garden of Eden: cherries in May!!!  For a Wisconsin girl, this was paradise.  The Co-op itself was a seminal experience.  Bulletin boards plastered with job offers, communal vacancies, rider board, sales and rental listings of all types,  it was a real kaleidoscope of California life, an original Craig's list. They even had a kiddy corral.

 My membership # was 3529552

Up to this point the only fresh cherries I had  encountered were sweet purplish bings or sour, red pie cherries native to northern Wisconsin.  Here in California I discovered several varieties of yellow fleshed beauties flecked with scarlet,  that I had only seen in cans,  packed in overly sweet heavy syrup.

Canned Royal Anne or Queen Anne cherries as they are called here 

Creamy- fleshed  Ranier or Queen Anne  cherries were piled high in the Co -op supermarkets,  ( The Berkeley  farmer's markets  didn't open til the 1980s.)  Both varieties are available in California  and, best of all, I could select my own fruit rather than buy a packaged bunch. I was in heaven! Soon after my arrival, I found out I wasn't far from the source: I could drive about  thirty miles to Brentwood and pick my own fruit from real cherry trees.  And though fruit farms are disappearing at an alarming rate around here, this is still true. An informative article about picking your own fruit  in the Bay Area  appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle  on Sunday, June 17th.  U-Pick Fruit Options . Forty- odd years later,  I'm still meandering in this Garden of Eden.

A basket full of freshly picked cherries

An abundance of  fresh Raniers at the Monterey Market on June 18tn

As usual, I prefer to eat my lovely, fresh cherries immediately and pop the stems and pits right into my green bin if I'm at home. Then I unearth my favorite cherry concoctions from various books and files. And, of course, I have to search for my cherry pitter which has been in storage since last June. Those pesky pits must be dealt with, and green bin anticipates the results. I love cherry clafouties, or at least I love the idea of this French pudding-like dessert, for I have failed all too often in practice. I remember ordering a delicious (and light)  apple version at Bistrot Jeanty in Yountville. Mine are unfortunately heavy and dense. But I do make a beautiful Italian cherry cake from Carole Field's excellent cookbook In Nonna's Kitchen.
Unfortunately, the pitting is time consuming and messy and the cherries often sink to the bottom. So, I always return to a favorite old-fashioned dessert that can only be made in the short early- summer period when cherries and apricots converge. I found it years ago in The Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison and I make it  once or twice every season. As an extra bonus my green bin gets cherry plus apricot pits and luckily, the tapioca keeps well from year to year.

Fresh apricots and bing cherries ready for a transformation

2 lbs apricots
3/4 lb bing cherries
3 T sugar
1 1/2 T tapioca

Rinse the fruit, cut apricots in half and remove pits. Cut the halves into thick chunks. Pit the cherries or slice them in two and pull out the seeds. Combine the fruit and toss them with the sugar and tapioca. If the fruit is tart, add more sugar to taste. Pour into a pie plate or gratin dish. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and make the crisp topping.

2/3 cup unbleached white or whole wheat flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
2/3 cup brown sugar
pinch of salt
6 T  cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Combine the flour, oats, sugar, and salt in a bowl or food processor. Then add the butter. Work the ingredients together with your fingers, or pulse in processor 'til they are blended.  Now sprinkle topping over prepared fruit and bake for 45 minutes, or until top is browned and there is a thick juice around the edge.  Remove the crumble from the oven and let it rest.  Serve warm with ice cream.

The finished product, hot from the oven


I first saw this image of Life is a Chair of Bowlies as a greeting card, not a book. The card was the runaway bestseller in my shop Cookbook Corner. Now out-of-print, the book spawned an entire industry of add-ons, including calenders, aprons, greeting cards, tea pots and more. With its charming drawings and witty sayings by Mary Engelbreit, it is adorable and can easily be obtained on-line.  

Life Is Just A Chair of Bowlies by Mary Engelbreit


  1. your recipe looks really good! I love the picture of the freshly picked cherries.

    1. Thanks Daydreamer, you made my day!