Thursday, July 10, 2008

Low-Tech Cherry Pitting

Queen Anne cherries ready for harvest

It's cherry harvesting time in the Northwest, and on her farm in Aloha, OR my friend Sue Keith has a few cherry trees--bing, Queen Anne... She's been busy with the help of her husband John, putting up fruit for the winter. And since quite a few old-fashioned cherry pitters come through her shop, Susantiques, she gets a little mechanical help, too. Monday they canned 28 jars of bing cherries, and yesterday they processed 14 quart jars and made four cherry crisps, the same way housewives did it fifty years ago. Sue, who still lives in the farmhouse where she grew up, has become expert at putting food by over the years.

The most laborious part of the job is pitting the cherries. The jar with the strange-looking red lid is the gadget she used on the latest batch. Here she shows how she pits a Bing cherry.

Out in her storage barn she has unearthed a few more "high-tech" cherry pitters that need some rehabilitation. Next year they should speed up the process even more. One of them will pit four cherries at once.

"I call this one my 'four-banger'" she says. "You can see how it turns as you turn the handle. "All you need to do is drop cherries in the holes with the left hand, turn the handle with the right, and the cherries are brought around to a chute, and the pits go down, lower, to their own chute, and into a bowl." The manufacturer's name, embossed on the gizmo, is New Standard.

Another type of pitter, made by Enterprise, only pits one cherry at a time, but Sue admires the ingenuity of the design.

"It has a bowl to put the cherries in and they roll down and as you turn the handle, the plunger pushes out the pit, the pit goes down the smaller chute to the front, and the flipper above all of this comes around, with the turn of the handle, and pushes out the cherry into a waiting bowl. I really like this one...the way they thought this through, to get the cherry out of the way for the next one. With each turn of the handle, the process starts all over again! They were really thinking, to make something like these pitters."

This one, made by New Standard Hardware Works, looks similar but works a little differently: "cherries being in the funnel-like chute, landing one at a time in an indention. The pit goes out the same way, into a bowl under the hole, and the cherry is suppose to roll down a smaller chute to the back, and into another bowl."

The more complex the machine the more maintenance it requires, even in the case of cherry pitters. The simplest one, with the jar, was ready to use. The other two need cleaning and oiling, and there's a leather bit to be replaced. "The leather piece is put in the hole where the plunger goes through. It is just a small square with an X cut in it, that lets the plunger put the pit through, but will not let the pit come back up with the cherry."

TA-DA! the result, glowing like jewels in the Keith pantry.

"Only thing I like better than these, is my peach peeler," says Sue. "I thought for the longest time it was an apple peeler, but one day, after getting my copy of "300 years of old Kitchen Collectibles" I found a picture identifying it as a peach peeler..."

"It never did work on apples," she adds, "and I could have damaged it! It has seven wheels, or gears, that turn others, and it is just fun to watch!"

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