In Toronto, the obvious signs of summer are already in effect. Mid-afternoon sunshowers are punctual, and, blessedly, quickly over and done with. By five o’clock, the grass along the bike path in the park is lined three deep with young bodies, who accessorize with alcohol concealed in fashionable bags. Small clusters of cops on every kind of traversable land vehicle—bike, car, horse, you name it—scan the park with Doberman-like intensity. And, with some ceremony, we pulled the air-conditioner out of the closet this week, sandwiching it under the window sash and cavalierly sealing the gaps with masking tape. Its clattery, mechanical noise forms harmonic thirds with the intermittent buzz of lawn trimmers we can’t see, and the sound is peppered with shouts from the kids in the backyard next door.
In our backyard—correction: our landlord’s backyard, the one we peer at through the slats on a pressure-treated balcony—there is a massive cherry tree nearly as tall as the three-story house we share with him. From our perch, we can make out just a few waxy red balls under the leaves—this spring, an early thaw followed by a quick frost killed most of the blooms in the province. So cherries are a rare delight this year, but a sign of summer all the same.
Out of season, cherries are consumed beyond their rank as the default flavor of FD&C Red No. 3, and often not alone. They naturally pair with almonds, a cousin thrice removed, and together are the base flavors for such fancy-sounding things as Kirsch and clafoutis. In Canada, there’s a confection called a Cherry Blossom that comes in a neat yellow box, but I don’t care for the little choco-coco-peanut lump enrobing a chewy thing resembling a maraschino inside. The Cherry Blossom is a dismal end for cherries, on par with the black cherry whisky I drank when I was fifteen—I often smuggled a sticky-sided triangular bottle of the stuff into high school dances, and in the bathroom cut the overly-saccharine syrup with swigs of Coke. Still, a slice of my mother’s chocolate cherry bundt cake, made with a package of Duncan Hines and a can of cherry pie filling, is a lowbrow treat I will never refuse.
But right now, a single fresh cherry (or better yet, a bowl of them) is superlative to any of the above. To chew through a drupe (the biological term for stone fruit) as tasty as a cherry is a ritual that trumps the solstice. And just as midsummer celebrations go hand-in-hand with some Bacchanalian rite, no other food is more evocative of subtext. To rattle off the licentious associations of cherries here would be a bore (perhaps you’ve been snickering already); you’d be better off following Anne Carson’s line and resorting to a “cherrying of the mind.” To be sure, while the cherry seems to embody sex in a tight little package (ahem), it is also giddily wholesome. Ethel Merman had it right: there’s nothing more carefree. Turning the stem in your mouth to produce a knot is a useless skill—and not nearly as erotic as tasting the cherry itself—but we can’t stop ourselves from spitting the pit as far as it will fly. When we’re in the park we choose cherries over tall cans, and while exercising these unrefined maneuvers doesn’t earn us a citation, we get steady glares all the same.
Originally from Toronto, Jen Hutton is an artist and writer currently dispatched to a 'burb northeast of Los Angeles.