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On pitting cherries, young voters, and jam vs. pie

Ripe, red cherries on a tree are a pretty sight, but picking cherries is tedious business and pitting them is worse. And yet, once begun, both activities relax me. There’s no way to hurry, no way for short cuts; no way to lessen the ordeal. As it is with windshield time on a long drive, the mind wanders and works things out: Pleasant things, such as what the grandchildren will have on their minds when they arrive for the long weekend; chore-type things, such as how I’ll ever get through the weeding I’ve neglected; even political things, such as the blasé national attitude toward the historical significance of a female presidential candidate on a national party ticket.

Jane Ahlin
Jane Ahlin

When my husband planted three sour cherry trees behind our lake cabin (eight years ago?), neighbors were skeptical. Conventional wisdom seemed to cast him in the role of a fruity Don Quixote: Even if the trees lived a few seasons, cherries would be sparse — food for birds and squirrels — after which the trees would languish and die.

When neighbors remarked along those lines, my husband smiled with good humor. “Well, he’d say, “I know for sure how many cherries I’ll have if I don’t plant the trees.”

Enough for jam

The first summer was not promising, particularly after a friend backed her car over one of the three trees. But the next year we got some cherries. And, except for one summer between then and now, we’ve always had enough cherries to make about 20 jars of jam — which, I must add, my husband has hoarded as if they were gelled gold. Because jam has been the priority, we’ve never convinced ourselves to squander cherries on a pie, although every year I’ve wished we could.

A late freeze made us worry this spring because the trees were fully blossomed out when it hit. Actually, they were blossomed out to a degree we’d never seen before. The night of the dire forecast my husband sprayed the trees with water before we went to bed. In the morning the temperature was 27 degrees, and we feared the worst (shudder!), a summer with no cherries at all.

Surprise, surprise. Maybe spraying with water helped, or, perhaps, the spot where the trees are located was in some kind of weather pocket that night. Whatever the reason, the trees laden with blossoms turned into a bumper crop of cherries. So far we’ve put up 60 jars of ruby-red jam with no end in sight. And, man alive, have we been eating cherry pie.

Talking about the election

Pie wasn’t on my mind, however, when I found myself listening in on a conversation between a young woman and a salon worker. The young woman said she was 20 years old, and most of the conversation seemed to be about how busy she was getting ready for her sister’s upcoming wedding. A television was on in the salon, tuned to talking heads with the backdrop of the Democratic convention.

When the young woman looked up at the screen, the salon worker asked in a teasing way if she’d been watching the political conventions. The young woman grimaced. Indeed, she had not. She said she hadn’t been paying attention to the election yet, didn’t plan to pay attention anytime soon, and didn’t really plan to vote in the fall.

Surprised by her vehemence, I ventured into the conversation. Surely she’d like to help elect the first woman president. She looked at me as if I’d thrown up in her lap. 

‘Some idealism, some courage …’

When the 26th Amendment lowering the age from 21 to 18 was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1971, he said directly to new voters, “[Y]ou will infuse into this nation some idealism, some courage, some stamina, and some high moral purpose that this country always needs.”

That’s the election in which I cast my first vote (Nixon vs. McGovern). I didn’t like either candidate, but I was thrilled to be a voting adult. Turns out 1972 is the only year since the amendment that the percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds voting was greater than 50 percent. In 2012 it was 38 per cent.

Sobering thoughts while pitting cherries. Best not to think about while eating pie. 

A writer and columnist from Fargo, N.D., Jane Ahlin also has taught English at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Jim Million on 08/05/2016 - 10:51 am.

    Back to Pie

    Having had a Mother who was the surviving daughter of a Yorkshire bakery owner, I learned about great pie at an early age. And, cherry pie has always been my favorite (perhaps because I was born next to Washington’s birthday). In any case, it’s all about the crust–the crust–the crust, and minimal sugar with a dash of lemon juice in the cherry filling.

    As for cherry jam, well, that’s a wonderful lazy shortcut, given proper ratios–terrific with fabulous doughnuts (“fried cakes”). Ever tried a great slice of nicely tart rhubarb pie with terrific cherry jam atop it? Now, that’s quite nice.

    By the way, I just missed the ’68 election by two months, so I joined you in ’72. Didn’t like both candidates either, so I wrote in “Eugene McCarthy.” I’ve been an independent outlier ever since.

    [No cherry picking this year, either, but certainly a good one for throwing pies–store-bought, that is.]

    Thanks, as always, Jane

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