cherry crumb cake

Still foggy with jet-lag, my dad called, “Come for dinner. I miss you.”

And so we came and filled the house with noise and dirt. While my dad fussed with the barbecue I walked towards my mother’s garden admiring the hostas and stopping to smile at a single Peace Rose remaining on it’s queen-sized bush.

Intrepid weeds trailed from the dusty vegetable garden where the tomato cages stood like silent skeletons. But on the west wall! Oh! My mother’s beloved raspberry bushes had taken hold and flourished, their eager branches stretched out and over and upward with fresh ripe berries on every stem. And in the corner, with her slight arms held wide open, was the sour cherry tree, impossibly laden with fruit. I reached my hands into the heart of the tree cradling and examining the bright bundles on their graceful stems. There were no worms, not a single cherry was marred by birds.

I remembered standing in this spot with my mother last summer (because every visit included a tour and discussion of the garden) where she lamented this poor little tree. My dad had sprayed the tree, wrapped it twice with netting and still, the magpies had devoured every cherry. What more could she do?

With a cherry in my mouth and raspberries staining my fingers I sat and cried.

My dad wandered down the path and sat holding my hand and wiping his own tears, “We are enjoying the fruits of her labors. We must enjoy them.” He said.

The next day my dad brought me cups and containers overflowing with cherries and a big round tupperware filled with raspberries. “Make a pie.” he suggested.

They are indeed, pie cherries. Small and sour, they bear only a physical resemblance to the fat globes I eat by the handful every summer. But snacking cherries are awful for cooking and my mom usually bought sour cherries from an Idaho farmer to make her summer desserts.

We ate the raspberries the first day because they require no preparation beyond an appetite and possibly a bowl and milk. But the cherries have been waiting, a few stray ones tumbling from the top shelf of my refrigerator to the vegetable bin below.

So this morning, I mixed up my crumb cake, a recipe from Erik’s German Oma made famous by my frequent variations and contributions to parties. It’s the kind of cake that causes a rumble and then a roar at gatherings and the pan is shaken and spooned out and licked clean. Between the moist base and the buttery streusel, any kind of fruit or nut or jam can find a home, and it’s also fantastic with no filling at all.

The batter was ready in 5 minutes and while Ben did the breakfast dishes I pulled the cherry pitter from it’s neglected corner. It’s the same pitter I used as a child when baking with mom. She casually gave it to me during a visit a few summers ago, explaining that she never used it anymore. And I ought to be cautious here, my siblings would certainly be jealous that I’ve obtained such a valuable childhood relic.

The pitter spat the seeds into one cup and I deposited the juicy flesh into another, my mind occasionally drifting and reversing the cups. Xander jumped in for the pleasure of using the pitter (it’s magical, I tell you) and then Stefan, then Ben. I was reduced to pitting the cherries by hand like my mother and found that I liked it. Even with my helpers it took a half hour to divide the fruit and the stones. Cherries take work. No one feeds you a sour cherry pie or strudel or jam unless they love you.

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 t. baking powder
1 cup butter
1 t. vanilla
3 eggs

mix and pour into 9×13 pan.

lots of cherries
some sugar

bring to a boil and simmer until it looks good. spread over cake batter.

1 cup very soft butter
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour

mix with a fork and crumble over cake.

bake at 325 until it looks done (I’m sorry, I bake by feel and rarely time or measure anything.)

After feeding my kids, Erik and my dad there’s only one piece left.

I think I’ll make a pie tomorrow.

July 9, 2009
July 18, 2009



  1. Christie

    July 15, 2009

    I’ll bet somewhere in heaven, your mama is looking down, proud and happy. Beautiful writing, my friend. Glad to have you back.

  2. martha corinna

    July 15, 2009

    Gorgeous Michelle.

  3. Blue

    July 15, 2009

    i have never seen a pitter before! in fact it has never occurred to me that there was such a simple, effective little device! i thought one must BITE the cherry open to get the pit out.

    i’m all excited now. if only the cherries i bought the other day weren’t so blah tasting. not yummy. i’m using them in smoothies cause i can’t bear to waste them, but they don’t have any yummy flavor.

    love ya!

  4. Selwyn

    July 15, 2009

    oooh, I am a sucker for cherries… Even in the midst of winter here, the big luscious cherries from the US tempt me…

    Enjoy your cake, your pie, and your day!

  5. FoxyJ

    July 16, 2009

    I’m so jealous because sour cherries are one of my favorite things and they’re so hard to find. When (if) we ever own a home I’ve vowed to plant a tree of my own. I also find it mysterious how some years trees and gardens seem to fail and other years they blossom. Life is a mystery.

    PS–I read the earlier post about your brother and if he is really looking for support I know some people who could possibly help.

  6. Coach A.

    July 16, 2009

    When a loved one passes on, their gifts of love seem to be all around us reminding us that we will see our loved ones again…

  7. Mitchell Family

    July 16, 2009

    Grandma’s china and the cherry pitter, oh my! You can no longer claim that I’m the favorite daughter. Ruth

  8. Chelle

    July 16, 2009

    I love this post. What a treasure your blog is. makes me want to blog again (but I don’t think I will– too lazy!) : )


  9. Jennk

    July 17, 2009

    I love this post too. Looks delicious. Your father seems like a special person. You’re so lucky to have such a wonderful family.

  10. Jeanelle

    July 20, 2009

    So glad you’re back and can’t wait to hear more about your trip. Camp was unexpectedly wonderful – I’ll blog about it soon. Oh and love the cherry pitter. My mom has this awesome tool for preparing pears for canning that you can’t buy anywhere anymore…I love stuff like that!

  11. Azúcar

    July 20, 2009

    Dear love, we must still be in sync: I made a cherry pie Saturday.

    It was divine.

  12. Rowboat

    July 23, 2009

    i absolutely love your writing. so peaceful and beautiful and calm.

Comments are closed.