In May, when the cherries ripen north and east of Stockton, workers arrive in vans and pickup trucks, pitch tents within the orchards, and live under the trees until the harvest is over just a few frenzied weeks later.
I never really cared for cherries before we moved here.
Now cherries – and the people who grow and pick them – are tied inextricably to my idea of spring.
“It’s May,” I think at the start of the season. “I wonder if they’re here yet.”
I met the Bravo and Gutierrez families about four years ago. They come from Atecucario, a very small village in Michoacan, Mexico. They leave their homes in February and travel to Ventura to pick strawberries. From there, they move up to Stockton, then on to the Pacific Northwest.
During the harvest months, their village is mostly empty. “A lot of old women and babies,” Olga Bravo said when Alice and I stopped at the orchard for a visit. The work had slowed by then, and the families were preparing to leave for the year.
We talked in the shade as dinner cooked on camp stoves and over campfires dug between the trees.
Alice loves cherries. She would eat cherries for days if I didn’t cut her off.
“Do you like them with salt?” Olga asked me as we were saying goodbye. I wrinkled my nose. “It’s delicious,” she insisted.
“Get the cherries cold, almost frozen, then sprinkle them with a little salt, a little chili, a little lemon juice. Try it.”
Maybe next year. This time, we tried cherry scones instead.