I don't go in for kitchen gadgets much, not the frivolous ones that pretend to make life in the kitchen easier. I've been given scads of them over time, and most have ended up as tag sale inventory or at the dump. You know the ones – the hamburger press, the screw-worm garlic mincer, the avocado slicer, the egg separator. Maybe I'm just weird, or not lazy enough; I like futzing, I care enough to be precise, and it pleases me greatly to get my hands dirty. That said, I will pay dearly for the right tool for the job (Exhibit A: this massive copper jam pan that I sprang for after spending an entire afternoon cooking off several gallons of hot pepper jam...2 quarts at a time).
I have a particular disdain for tools that intend to obviate the need for decent knife skills – the Veg-o-Matic being the mack daddy of the genre. I'd almost put the mandoline in that category, until I want to make a gratin of potatoes...and then only a mandoline will do.
Until very recently, I'd have included the strawberry huller on the blacklist, but processing 8 flats of strawberries taught me otherwise. And so, when I dragged the family out to pick sour cherries over the weekend, I had a good idea that some new gadgetry might be in order. I'll confess here that I've never had to pit cherries before, so I was expecting (and willing) to spend handsomely for a tool that would get the job done fast and painlessly. I had in mind a hand-crank model with a bulk-loading capacity.
We drove over to Hicks Orchard in New York State and picked about 20 pounds of brilliant Montmorency cherries – for making sun-cooked conserve, of course – and on the drive home, swang by Vermont Kitchen Supply to see what kind of contraption my friend Kerry could set us up with. I've been buying kitchen equipment from Kerry for over 20 years; she's a genuine article of a gal and really knows her stuff, and if you're ever in the vicinity of Manchester, VT, you should stop in and see for yourself. True to form, she had 5 different models of cherry pitter to choose from (though, alas, no bulk-processing option) and she patiently demonstrated the pros and cons of each, and in addition described a technique for crushing the cherries with a rolling pin between sheets of plastic wrap.
I settled on the Westmark Kernex (times 2 – his & hers), because it had the most forgiving spring-return action. The others might have been prettier (especially the gleaming Italian model), but would have left us all with tendonitis in short order.
We stopped for a quick bite of dinner on the way home, so by the time we got to cleaning and pitting the cherries, it was getting on eight in the evening. We'd been up at 6AM for the farmers' market, and I'd spent close to 5 hours with the sometimes idiot public. Add to that several hours' driving and a couple of tall frosties with dinner, and I probably wasn't at my sharpest. But I attacked the task in what seemed to me the most reasonable way.
I loaded half the cherries into a sink full of cool water to rinse them, then carefully removed the stems and leaves and transferred the cherries to a large colander to drain. I set up a workstation on the counter with a couple of bowls – one for waste, one for cherries – and me & the mister went to town pitting the cherries. We loaded them one at a time into the pitters (oriented as in the photo above), carefully nestling each into the little ringy-part with the stemhole up, then squeezing to punch out the pit...which wasn't accomplished perfectly, so each cherry required some finessing and then a gentle finger-flick to knock the pit into the bowl below and extract the cherry into the bowl on the side.
We're good at this mindless work together, my husband and I, so we fiddled away at it, making small talk and teasing and getting punchier as we went along. When the first batch was finished and I was set to wash the second, it occurred to me that one might load the cherry with the stem intact and punch/pull simultaneously to accomplish pitting and stemming in one motion. I gave it a shot and – une miracle! – it worked! Still a little futzy, but sure to go faster. It was my genius husband that went a step further and discovered that if you held the pitter with the ringy-part up, you could thread the stem through the slot and tug gently as you squeezed the handle...the pit would slip easily out, and you could then quickly drop the cherry from the pitter into the collection bowl.
Suddenly the Westmark Kernex became the most elegant of kitchen tools. Captured on video (I don't know how to rotate video, and I promise I'll never shoot sideways again):
I know that handsome guy reads along here from time to time, so I want to take a moment to acknowledge (publicly) the time he puts in to help me with mindless kitchen work. Thanks, hon. I wouldn't do it without you.