Throwing Elbows for Sour Cherries

Casey Barber

by Casey Barber on July 8, 2011

Waiting in a line with hundreds of caffeine-addled, pointy-elbowed fashion addicts on a six-degree February morning sharpens your focus like you wouldn’t believe. Like ponies at the starting gate, every muscle on alert, the constant vigilance of a New York City sample sale hones the laser-precise concentration needed to walk home with a Prada statement watch or retro-futuristic Marni Mary Janes.

Months and years of fighting my way to deep discounts in the name of fashion paid off when it came to snagging sour cherries at the greenmarket. Every June, I’d hear the drumbeat building in my head—cher-ries, cher-ries—steeling myself for the fleeting rush of in-season fruit just before the summer solstice. Bright and early off the train, I’d canvas stalls that would be picked clean of their red jewels by noon, nonchalantly plunking down five or six dollars for a quart.

Alas, the heart-pounding whoosh of securing the coveted bounty was always offset by knowing that even with my greedy eye and my sharklike reflexes, at greenmarket prices, I could only afford enough to grab enough cherries for one or two pies before they disappeared for the season.

sour cherries, pick your own
Until this year. Now my Prada watch waits in the jewelry box and the Stella McCartney pumps languish in the closet while I slip on my Toms for an afternoon picking cherries from the trees at Battleview Orchards in Monmouth County.

Despite multiple Griswoldian childhood excursions to cut down our own Christmas tree, this was my virgin excursion to a pick-your-own fruit farm. Forced by a deeply rutted road into a leisurely drive through fields of apple and peach trees bordering Revolutionary War-era battlefields, Dan and I wound our way to the cherry orchard.

As soon as we stepped out of the car, I realized my go-to mental state of prepping to be the first, the best, to get the good stuff before anyone else had the chance to strip the joint clean had no place here. The word “laden” was invented for the amount of fruit on these trees. Lite-Brite brilliant clusters of cherries were everywhere, shimmering beads and sequins stretching into the distance against the blue sky.

Standing under the canopy, enveloped by breezes and silence, I barely needed to lift my arms to grab handfuls of neon fruit. Even with Dan’s fingers occasionally busy at the camera shutter instead of picking cherries, we’d filled a canvas bag with 12 pounds from just one tree (at $2.99 a pound, no less!) in less than 20 minutes. I could have kept going for hours. Unlike the competitive jostle of the greenmarket, where I often felt like a salmon swimming upstream against a current of looky-loos and power hippies, the ritual of sticky-fingered plucking straight from the branch made me feel foolish for my years of skewed priorities.

Why do I make it so hard on myself? Why has it always been so important to get the real Marc Jacobs Venetia bag, the prototype Manolos that were never put into mass production, the evanescent quart of sour cherries?

One bite of a fresh cherry pie, one spoonful of just-made jam, and I know why. It’s just so satisfyingly delicious to have the real thing. Maybe I put too much mental anguish into my pursuit of the good stuff, but owning, eating, absorbing, and living with quality is worth taking an extra step or two once in a while.

I don’t have to throw elbows to get my cherries anymore, and I can take another day to stuff my freezer to the gills with the little crimson rounds if I want. I can spend a lifetime toting my hard-won leather bags around, or I can pick up my just-as-beloved L.L. Bean tote and pair it with my Chloe wedges that have made it through five summers and counting. I can work myself into a frenzy over sour cherry season, but I don’t have to think twice about going gaga for ramps in April if they don’t do it for me.

I can pick my own battles and go for what I like best.

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