When my husband and I moved to our new home in the city, the first thing he did was plant fruit trees. As the saying goes, the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is today.
So, he eagerly went to the local nursery and picked out a variety of fruit trees and vines: cherries and apples, plums and grapes, and loaded our inner-city yard up as if he still lived on the farm.
It took a few years for anything of note to come, but then one year, we saw some cherries.
They were beautiful! Large and juicy, ruby red, hanging so tantalizingly from the tree. We couldn’t help but try one, long before it was ready… and it was terrible.
It was too sour to swallow, so we spat them out, and committed to waiting for them to ripen.
A few days later, we tried again. The sourness was not abating, and it was honestly the worst fruit we had ever tasted. It made lemons and rhubarb seem sweet by comparison.
A week later, those beautiful cherries were rotting on the tree. If they had a ripe season, we never found it, and it was too late now.
We reluctantly picked the fermenting fruit, not because there was anything we could do with it, but because it made our backyard stink and even the birds weren’t eating them. We hoped for better luck the next year.
The next year yielded no better results, and we picked – and threw away – a few small handfuls of these beautiful but unbearably sour cherries.
The third year, as we watched the fruit ripen and turn that glorious shade of red, as the cherries grew plump and full on the tree, we finally admitted to ourselves that this was not quite what we had envisioned for our urban orchard. The grapes were tart and full of seeds. The crabapples small and sour. The plums had more pit than fruit, and the cherries were simply inedible.
Should we cut them all down? Plant flowers instead? Our harsh northern climate wasn’t conducive to growing fruit, we knew, but was that really all there was?
We had the chainsaw out, ready to restart. But then, something stilled our hand. What if…?
Instead of hiding our embarassment, we picked some fruit and brought it to our grandmothers and great-aunts. Asked if they knew the fruit, or what could be done with it.
We poured over google, took books out of the libraries, and went back to the nurseries where we had bought them.
What were they? What did we do with them?
And we discovered our gold mine.
The grapes could be eaten… but it made the best home-pressed juice and jellies. The plums had enough natural pectin it could be turned into jam if you left the pits in with them, and a handwritten recipe over a hundred years old was passed on. The crabapples, pressed, turned into a brilliant pink juice, making holiday apple ciders glow with warmth, enjoyed with honey and cinnamon, and our sour cherries were ideal for homemade pie filling.
So, armed with recipes and a thrift store canner, jars donated by grandparents and friends, we learned the art of preserving.
Our pantry soon filled with jams and jellies, juices and preserves.
They were amazing. The best cherry pie we’d ever had. Plum jam we were embarassed to serve to friends – what with the pits – but that inspired such nostalgia in family that they became highly sought-after gifts. Buckets full of grapes, all from our little corner, to be shared among neighbours and family and friends.
And we almost chopped it all down.
Sometimes we don’t see the gifts right in front of us. We thought we were growing a bing cherry tree, and had no never heard of sour cherries, or the gifts they bear.
Since they didn’t taste like bing cherries, we thought they must be worthless.
How often do I overlook gifts as worthless just because they aren’t what I expect?
How often am I willing to abandon, even destroy, what bears good fruit because I don’t know what to do with it?
How much I can grow when I humble myself to learn, be mentored, grow and develop.
So this year, as I watch my sour cherries ripen, I smile with anticipation for what’s to come. And yes, I nonchalantly dare newcomers to “try a few” and then laugh at their horrified faces… but I also proudly serve our home-grown cherry pie because this tree, despite it’s surprises, has become a cherished gift.