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The Sweet (and Sour) Taste of Victory


Hard-won cherries.

There are times when shopping at the farmers market is an urbanite’s bucolic fantasy, and there are times when it’s a blood sport—requiring NASCAR driving skills, sharp elbows and unrelenting greed. I participated in the latter style of shopping last Saturday at the Alemany Farmers Market. All in the name of my mother.

My mother’s one of those people whose summer is spent trying to replicate the taste of her childhood. Every peach, every tomato, every green bean that she grows (or buys) is deemed alright, at most good, but never like the ones she grew up eating in Colorado. She has spent her life looking to replicate these food memories and spends a lot of time experiencing a resigned sense of disappointment.

The one thing, though, that’s become golden in her memory—mostly due to their rarity here—is the sour cherry. I’ve heard the lore of the sour cherry pie, the sour cherry cobbler, the sour cherry jam. My mother is growing a sour cherry tree in her yard in Sonoma, but thus far, it’s only taunted her by producing a cherry or two, further feeding her yearnings.

This is why I found myself in my Subaru speeding around the narrow corners and hills of Bernal Heights at 8 am in the morning last Saturday, like a picture out of Bullet, on my way to the Alemany Market. I knew there had been sour cherries at Hooverville Orchard’s stall, because my upstairs neighbor and “good friend” Alan had come home with the last batch of them the week before and refused to share, despite my poor mother’s pleas. The following week, I sent my co-worker Jessica, who’s also a sour cherry fan, to get some (I was out of town: see my LA blog), but she’d run out of luck because Pizzeria Delfina’s “cutey chef,” Anthony, (as I’d called him in a previous blog about his fried fava beans) was there buying up the last flat. Yeah—Anthony-cute-no-more.

I’d been told that Hooverville would have cherries for about 3 weeks, and this last Saturday was the third. I skidded into a parking space, leapt out and ran directly to Bruce, who runs the stand, and who I’d knew was keeping the tender and easily bruised sour cherries in the back. There were only two flats left. The taste of victory was sweet (or sour, in this case). I shelled out $25 and drove up to my parents’ house for the weekend, as proud as if I’d just shot a wild boar.

Mom was thrilled and we spent a very old-fashioned afternoon in the sun, pitting the cherries using a paper clip and chatting about life. Hours later, our back aching, we finished and I made a cobbler using the family recipe (ask, and I’ll give it to you). That night, we sat down, cobbler in hands, with a little moat of heavy cream, and dug in. Dad, who tends to like most everything, expectedly expressed how much he liked it, but from Mom, I heard nothing much than a polite murmur. I asked her the next day what she’d thought of the cherries, and she said she thought they were good, but not quite tart enough—just not quite right. Undoubtedly, the search will continue and I drove home with a bag of sour cherries to freeze.