Friday, July 1, 2011

Cherry Picking and Wildfires


Ok, I know, it's been way too long since I updated the blog. Yikes, time flies! We were out of town, and then I was a bit overwhelmed with work.... We went cherry-picking down near Tularosa last weekend, and then I was overwhelmed with cherries. Plus, all of a sudden the apricots are ripe too! More on that later.


We had a great time at Nichols Ranch and Orchards - they have 16 different varieties of cherries planted, and you can just wander and pick whatever you like. 


We picked 9 pounds of sour pie cherries, and 14 pounds of different kinds of sweet cherries - about half Bing, half Lambert, and a handful (maybe a pound) of Royal Anne. Bing have the firmest texture and sweetest flavor, which is why they are so deservedly popular, and I never knew they could get so black! It's a bit late in the season, so they're incredibly dark and sweet. Lambert are redder, more tart, and heart-shaped. Royal Anne are bright red, blushing with yellow, and fantastically sweet. They go fast, so we could only find a few.


And of course we had to stop at the "world's largest pistachio" at the McGinn's Orchard store - this is pecan and pistachio country. They have about a dozen kinds of flavored pistachios, which are all good, but we just bought a pound of plain ones. And some Carrizozo Cherry Cider, which is pretty tasty... but not nearly as good as actual cherries. Pecans were expensive at the gift shop, but much cheaper at the gas station convenience store! It's amazing what you can get at gas stations in serious agricultural or fishing towns - I once bought a mesh bag of oysters in the shell at a gas station in Willapa Bay, out on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, and they were incredible.

Back home, it took us about two hours to pit the pie cherries, which were just enough for 3-4 pies, then we froze them. With these, you can poke a small paper clip or bobby pin through the stem end and the seed pops right out. The sweet cherries were much more difficult to pit - the seeds just seem to be attached more firmly to the flesh, so it was easier just to use our fingers to split the cherry and dig out the seed. Still, it didn't take that much longer. I made a Danish Cherry Sauce with about 4 pounds, a pie with about 2 1/2 pounds, and Brandied Cherries with another 4 or 5 pounds, but where did the other 3 pounds go? I guess we must have just eaten them!


The drive was just gorgeous - especially the sunset behind Socorro, but the scary thing was that we saw three different fires on our way back to Albuquerque. Warning:  I'm about to go on a bit of a tangent here, because it is breaking my heart. The first was a small grass fire, right on the stretch of road before where this picture was taken. 


The second was a bosque fire (along the river) south of Belen, which has now burned 250 acres. And the third was the Las Conchas fire which has now burned over 100,000 acres of the Jemez Mountains, making it the largest in New Mexico's history. From the freeway near Isleta, south of Albuquerque, we could see the flames in the dark... over 60 miles away. It looked like an erupting volcano. My husband's parents live up there. They were supposed to evacuate, but chose to stay. It looks like they will be fine, and the fire crews have done an amazing job of keeping the fire from getting to Los Alamos National Lab. The ironic thing is that they were helped enormously by the fact that the Cerro Grande fire, which destroyed hundreds of homes in Los Alamos 11 years ago, had already burned up most of the fuel load in the area and that's a big part of what actually kept the town safe this time.

Other communities haven't been so lucky - let's just hope the destruction isn't too devastating for Santa Clara Pueblo as the fire moves north. The loss of trees in their watershed alone will cause major erosion problems for them this fall when it finally starts to rain, and again in spring when the snow melts. Dixon's Apple Orchard, where we love to go in the fall for the beautiful scenery and their special Champagne and Sparkling Burgundy apples, is to the south, where the fire first spread on Monday night. They had already lost some of their crop to the extreme freeze we had in February, and now their home and a tenth of the orchard have burned. It makes me want to cry, because this landscape I love will never be the same again in our lifetimes.

We had thought about going camping this weekend, but now I guess not, because half the state is on fire... and anywhere else we might go is at extreme fire risk too. Sandia Crest is closed, and we can't even ride our bikes along the river trail now, because the bosque is closed. Less than one inch of rain in Albuquerque so far this year, and that's what happens. But you can probably still go cherry-picking.
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