During cherry season, as with every other job we do on the farm, we approach the work as a family unit. So when it comes to cherry picking this means my father, Lloyd and I take the ladder work, us three spend most of our time picking the highest cherries in the tallest trees (for that is where the clusters of beauties can often time be found!).
Lucy, my sister and Mariana, my girlfriend, armed with little wicker baskets take to the orchard and pick the lower branches, they are both so very nimble and always surprise me with how quickly they fill their baskets.
My mother has one of the key roles, sorting and weighing the cherries, she starts by grabbing a punnet, then she chooses each cherry from the full baskets individually, checks they are the correct size and colour, makes sure they have no abnormalities or otherwise, then she weighs them into the punnets, and neatly places them onto pallets for their collection later that day. The sun starts to set over the orchard, we all stroll back down the lane to the farmhouse to meet the van, we load the cherries up and then they make their journey to the fruit markets of Lisbon, Porto or the Algarve to be sold the next morning.
Fundão is renowned throughout the country as the Portuguese cherry capital and for many of the local residents the cherry production that goes on here is a primary income and quite a big deal.
This year cherry production in Fundão was said to be down 70% from a normal given year, this was partly due to some heavy, unseasonable snowfall we had back on the last day of March, which the sheep did not like one bit!
The time of the snow blizzard was unfortunately the very same time all the blossom was out and indeed when the bees were supposed to be doing their pollinating, a critical part in the production of the fruit. This, coupled with some seriously heavy storms that occured at the end of May blowing the majority of the fruit to the ground, resulted in a measly harvest for many of the producers in the area, ourselves included of course. Though the deluge may have drenched the fruit we did not let it dampen our spirits and still found time to laugh and joke beneath the trees.
Once we finished picking cherries to be sold on, it was time for us to pick some for our own use. We have so far made two jars of cherry liqueur and some chocolate covered coconut cherries, as well as some to be used in pies which are currently residing in the freezer. We would love some ideas for what else to make with the cherries, so please get in contact with us and lend us some of your own ideas and recipes!
We have now put away our buckets and took down our ladders for the season, as this years cherry harvest draws to a close. Never mind though, life goes on, and what may be poor conditions for one crop could be ideal for the next. So, heres looking towards the grapes and olives in late summer / autumn.