In summer, the pleasures are simple, in abundance and all-encompassing.
It's a cherry season and these days in my kitchen it is all about these beautiful, red, mouthwatering fruits. One of the reasons they taste so delicious is because their season is short and they are around for a limited time during the year. Unlike apples and oranges that can be kept in cold storage, cherries don't last long and that's why they quickly disappear even from the store shelves. But, to me, the magic of cherries lies in the pleasure of picking your own fruits from the tree. I grew up with this simple joy available to me for free in my grandparents' bountiful garden. And I always wanted for my son to have summer memories of climbing cherry trees, plucking precious rubies off branches – one for the basket, three for the mouth – until he reaches the saturation point when his stomach hurts, his nose is just about to turn red and his sticky hands are stained with dye as the hands of a most famous painter. 
On Sunday, we headed to Bizjak Farms in Vineland, Niagara region. It is a family farm in operation since 1973. Using sustainable farming practices, Bizjak Farm specializes in growing chemical-free, tree-ripened fruit and preserving soil integrity with natural fertilizers. I met the farmer at a farmer's market in my neighborhood in Toronto during the week and when I learned they grow black sweet cherries and white cherries and the fruits are available for picking your own, I promised to go there on the weekend. We do not mind driving 2 hours to buy local products and support organic farming. However, the best part of our trip was to find a remote farm only with lines of cherry trees and fields of raspberries (which weren't ready yet). No petting zoos, corn mazes, playgrounds or jungle gyms. Only fruit trees, baskets, ladders, and picnic tables. A simple, honest, true farm to table food experience. Even our teenager, who wasn't very sure it was going to be fun, admitted that it was one absolutely perfect summer day of picking cherries, picnicking with them along cheese, pâté and baguette and of course, visiting a winery, because it is a crime to be in Vineland (Wine Country in Ontario) and do not enjoy the extensive portfolio of premium wines, made by the masters of the craft. 
At home, while I was making jam, summer permeated the room together with sweet childhood memories and idyllic images of my mom and her mom, both working women, canning and pickling every possible summer fruit and veggie that grows not only in their garden, but also in the gardens of friends, neighbours and relatives. They've never stopped doing it; even when my grandma is unable right now, my mom continues to try new recipes and improve old once. Jellies, jams, compotes, relishes, sauces, and juices - preserving the elixir of summer for the cold winter days. In a very small scale, I am keeping the tradition of homemade jam alive because there is something very satisfactory about picking fruit with your own hands and creating your own product by putting your heart into it. And because jam, I guess, is rich in nostalgia.
It is the simple things, after all, that gives us the most pleasure and help us appreciate all that we are blessed with.        

Cherry Jam

(make about 3 jars of 500ml)


2 kg. cherries, steams and pits removed
1 kg. sugar (could be less, depends on preference for sweetness)
finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract


Wash freshly picked cherries and remove the pits. Put the pitted cherries in a pot and add the sugar and the lemon. Stir well, cover the pot and leave for 15-20 minutes in order for the cherries to absorb the sugar and release their juice.
Add 1/2 cup of water (you can add more or less water, depends on how thick you want your jam to be). Cook the cherries by stirring frequently until they are wilted and completely soft, which may take about 30-40 minutes. Remove the pan from heat and leave to cool slightly.
Pour jam in sterilized glass jars. If you want to keep them in the pantry, you will need to seal jars by placing in boiling water for 5-6 minutes.

         What is your favorite summertime jam?