I grew up on a property in South Seattle with a lot of fruit trees. June cherries, July blueberries, August Italian prunes (plums), apricots and blackberries, September apples & pears (and quince too, but there was only one tree and we never found or developed a recipe that made them very desirable to eat). It was as if the original owner planned to have a new fruit coming ripe one after another all summer long. Actually, I’m sure he did. He also built the house on the property and it was a wonderful home in which to grow up. My family owned the home for more than 25 years, we enjoyed the fresh fruit all summer long almost every year.
So much of how I remember the summers of my childhood include something to do with fruit—picking fruit, sharing fruit and of course eating fruit. Like the time my brother and I decided we couldn’t wait for our parents to get home from work to pick the delicious cherries that were at their peak. We were latchkey kids back in the day, but it wasn’t that big a deal. I was nine or ten years old and my brother three years older. We had rules like no cooking, no unapproved friends over, among many others. A big one during the summer was that we were not to climb the trees unless our parents were home.
Against the rules, we climbed the trees (all the time!), especially the cherry trees, to reach high into the branches to get the reddest, juiciest cherries. We had a couple of beautiful cherry trees that seemed built for kids to climb. And then there were others that were a little bit tricky. Well this one day we must’ve been up in the trees for at least 2 hours (there were six cherry trees). I’ve never had a strong fear of heights and I was up in the trees even higher than my older brother. We were in a cherry induced delirium, no doubt.
We were in such a stupor from the cherries that we missed The Daily Call from my mother. She called every afternoon to check how things were going, make sure we were following “the rules.” This was of course before cell phones (early 1980s) and to miss The Daily Call was tantamount to declaring we had died, or the house had burned to the ground in my mother’s mind. Not being able to reach us, she contacted my father and he had to leave work early to see what had befallen us. Unfortunately my brother realized we’d missed The Daily Call just as my father was pulling into the driveway. I on the other hand, was still in the cherry delirium. Uh-oh!
My brother tried to explain about the cherries and how they were practically speaking to us, calling our names. I don’t recall that we were severely grounded, just a stern discussion about the rules and why they exist, especially for my big brother who was responsible for me after school. I think my parents actually understood. They loved cherries too!
A few years prior to that incident, my beloved grandmother (who didn’t do air travel) took the bus from Alabama to Seattle and spent a few summer weeks with us sometime around the late 1970s. (That’s me in pictured above with my grandma, mom and brother at the Seattle Center Flag Pavillion.) It must have been in August because she made the most delicious plum fruit leather I’ve ever had to this day. Soft, but chewy with just the right balance of tangy and sweet. She even cut it up and wrapped it in cellophane. She also made jars and jars of jam and jellies as grandmas must do, but the fruit leather was like candy to me as a child.
Then there was the year we had so many apples my parents invited several families from our elementary school PTA over for a cider party. The school principal brought his vintage wooden cider press and the families brought their empty milk bottles. We sent every family home with several gallons of fresh cider each and a few boxes of apples too!
And the blueberries. There were so many that we’d invite the neighbors over to pick them during the prime window of ripeness. We’d arm ourselves with the biggest Tupperware mixing bowls we could find along with any plastic cup with a handle. The handle was ever so important to the picking technique so that you could hook the cup on your thumb and pretty much pick with 2 hands. In a couple of hours we’d pick a mountain of berries. We always gave away more berries than we ate.
My family sold the property more than a decade ago, but my mom transplanted a few of those trees to her current house and she’s added new ones. She gives us a few quarts of her harvest each year. I’m not big on blueberries cooked in various other foods (I.e. Muffins, pancakes, pie, etc). Having practically grown up on a fruit farm, I’m spoiled for fresh fruit and that’s the almost only way I’ll eat it most of the time.
Harvesting fruit trees on your property, or tending a garden with family and friends can create wonderful memories to last a lifetime. Every time I have plums or fruit leather I think of my grandmother. I’d love to have pictures of her making fruit leather when she was here in Seattle. I encourage you to pull out your camera from time to time to capture those memories. Then once you have a few moments recorded, don’t just leave them on your computer or external hard drive. I’d love to knit together your images into home movies or a photo slideshow you’ll love to watch over and over for many years to come.
Last year we purchased a couple of small blueberry bushes and they’ve really taken off in size. My husband, unlike me, loves blueberry cooked in anything. I would love to grow enough to have blueberry pancakes once or twice a month year round as a special treat. Our blueberry harvest will probably total around a quart this year (I’m being optimistic), but we think we chose a good spot for the bushes to thrive into the future and make great family memories for many years to come.