Monday, July 4, 2011

A Post About Cherries...In Which I'll Probably Gross You Out



Besides the watermelon, is there any fruit more quintessentially summer than cherries? I was visiting my family this past week and I was very happy to learn there was a local orchard that was allowing common people to come in and glean their Bing cherries. My little sister and I jumped all over that, and in the course of two days and a total of about six hours we picked close to a hundred pounds of cherries, which we split between us.

These cherries came from a neglected orchard. My theory, and my sister agrees, is the orchard has been bought by developers, but because there are still empty lots surrounding the orchard they aren't going to the trouble of pulling the trees out until the land is needed. Oh well, we'll gladly take those cherries off their hands.

However, since the orchard is neglected we ran into a little problem.



Cherry maggots.

Ah, yes, the reason cherries are sprayed so heavily. Organic ways do exist to control them, but they're usually not the favored way amongst commercial orchards. And even organic sprays still kill beneficial insects. I estimate that 20-25% of the crop was infected with worms.

So, how to deal with worms? The usual answer is to soak the cherries, forcing the maggots to exit the fruit in an attempt to prevent drowning. The downside to this is your fruit will taste very watery and not very sweet. So, in my case since I don't see the point of eating a watered-down version of cherries, this isn't a viable option. I intend to make some fruit-only jam from part of the crop, and it's essential for the fruit to be as sweet as possible for that to work.

I could sort the cherries. I actually started doing that. It's mind-numbing work, even with the TV in the background. I just couldn't do it. Horrible. You have you check each cherry for a wormhole, it just takes too long in my opinion. Also, since it takes so long many of the non-wormy cherries would have gone bad by the end.

Well, I could cut each cherry open to pit it, and also evict it's resident. This is a slightly better option, but I pitted cherries like this a year or so ago and it's a tedious process. Throw two kids into the mix and it's a recipe for cherry-stained walls, if you catch my drift.


I could not care about the worms.


Hmm, why yech?

Hello, MAGGOT! You know, those writhing, slimy, white things that eat rotting, putrid, dead flesh. But, well, these maggots have been eating sweet cherries. They're made of cherries. Heck, they're even the same texture as cherries.

But, ew, guts. Maggot guts. Seriously? Well, yeah, actually. I eat all sorts of guts. I eat liver, heart, tongue, and would be willing to eat sweetbreads (pancreas or thymus gland), tripe (stomach), and more. I eat clams and oysters whole, and that includes guts. So what makes this so different? And if you eat hot dogs, baloney, and other such food, there's a good chance you're eating organs as well.

But, can I honestly eat a bug? Chances are you already have. Insect parts and rodent hairs are commonly found in food. One estimate is that the average American consumes one to two pounds of insects a year. And I'm sure most of it isn't on purpose.

So, are the cherries even worth it? In situations such as this I like to think of my pioneer ancestors. What would they do if presented with fifty pounds of cherries? I'm sure they would jump all over that. Then they discover that about ten pounds of the cherries contain maggots. I'm thinking they would still eat the cherries, and probably wouldn't fuss too much about eating some worms.

In case you haven't gleaned (pun!) the information yet, I am consciously eating wormy cherries. If you're wondering, they still taste the same.

If you happen to have wormy cherries, here's what you can do with them. My little sister is planning on canning hers. My mom did this when they had a bad maggot year. When you open the jar to eat the cherries you just skim the worms off the top and then serve. No harm no foul.

If you aren't canning cherries this year, like me, then all the other options usually keep the worm inside. I'm not water bath canning because it's not my favorite thing to do. Instead I'm going to convert a large part of my cherries into jam and (shh!) use the inversion method to seal the jars. Throwing them into the blender before jamming should obliterate the worms so I don't have to see them and make a smooth jam. Yum.

Another way of cherry preservation is dehydration. Both of my dehydrators are full of whole pitted cherries. When they're done they'll make great snacks for the kids, and the worm will be invisible due to being dried out too. Bug jerky.

And our last method of saving our cherries is freezing after pitting. These cherries are specifically saved for smoothies. Since they'll be blended there's no chance of running into a whole worm.

But what's the point of saving all these cherries if I can't bring myself to eat them when the time comes? Making sure I can eat wormy cherries is a priority. To accomplish this task I've been eating my fresh cherries. Without checking for worms. I've learned that telling myself "There isn't a worm, there isn't a worm," doesn't work very well. There ARE worms, and it's just a matter of time until I ran into one. Instead I would chant in my head, "You're eating a worm, and that's okay. Just like oysters, just smaller." Ta-da! Mission accomplished, I'm now eating worms. Even The Hubby is on board with this, especially when he saw how much work it took to process the harvest even without worrying for worms.

Have I convinced you to eat wormy cherries? No? Don't worry, I won't be offering my cherry jam to anyone. I'll have plenty of blackberry jam later in the season and I love to share.

Have you decided that eating worms is no big deal? Then come on over and have some pie. Extra protein at no extra cost.


This post has been shared on Simple Lives Thursday.


  1. Great post! Your father sat down with a bowl the other night. I asked if he was going to check for worms. His answer, "Why? If you just pop them in your mouth and chew you'll never know." I keep thinking of those guys on Dual Survival - yes, the *hippie* would eat the worms - no questions asked.

  2. I would definitely eat your pie! I am too squeamish to eat a worm in plain sight, but I don't think I'd be bothered by knowing that a few were cooking/frozen and then maybe blended into something.

    So far we've only seen 1 worm so far in our cherries, but we didn't pick nearly as many as you did! So far, besides just eating them, I've made cherry lemonade bars (yeah, not incredibly healthy!) and I'll pit and freeze the rest for smoothies I think.

    -Hannah (Jillyn's friend from the splash park)

  3. Love it! You're awesome! It was fantastic seeing you before I moved. My mom just froze all the cherries whole. They were really yummy....mmmmmm

  4. Yeah, we had 50 pounds of oatmeal once that got little tiny worms in it. You can bet we ate the whole thing as my mom is super fruuuuugal. :) We also had 30-ish fruit trees and didn't spray (a cherry tree amongst, though mostly apples and pears) so you can bet I've eaten worms. I try to evict the worms (I don't want to KNOW I am eating the worm...), but don't worry too much if I don't ...

    And if anyone thinks commercially sprayed crops are 100 % worm free, they have another thing coming! lol, you don't think the canning factory is deworming the cherry crop, eh?

    We had a corn roast once and had people shuck the corn after picking it from our corn patch. A few were grossed out by corn ear worms. it was pretty funny.

  5. I have found that if you put them in the fridge the worms then to come out of the cherries looking to warmth.

  6. Mom, thanks for raising us so well. ;)

    Hannah, those bars sound so good! My friend was telling me she juiced cherries one year and would mix a cup of cherry juice with a pitcher of lemonade. Yummm...

    Fotochikyo, I loved seeing you, too. Have fun at your new place!

    Caroline, we seriously need to meet, I think we would get along splendidly. And I hear you about those army worms. We always threw them to the chickens, they love 'em.

    Andrea, I'm glad I could make you giggle.

    Michelle, that's a great tip! Yet another reason I would like another fridge...

  7. It's rather gross when cleaning corn or peeling cucumbers to find a worm inside your food. My chickens like them, though!

  8. Thanks so much for sharing and linking up at Simple Lives Thursday! Love this post! I can totally relate. I've bought delicious looking mangos from the market and sometimes find maggots in them, but I just scoop them out with a spoon or if I don't get them all... just throw em in the blender with some kefir! LOL!

  9. That's a little nasty, but I couldn't let them go to waste, either.

  10. Wow ... I clicked over thinking "No way I will be grossed out; I don't gross out easily" and here I am, kinda grossed out. I guess I'm a pickier eater than I thought.

    I give plums right off our tree to my toddler though, and he doesn't even care that there are ants and other bugs boiling out of the tiny holes as he starts to munch! Perhaps I could learn from him.

  11. have to admit I did do the shudder, but then again I have probably eaten my share of worms in fruit, growing up on the site of a former apple orchard.

  12. My mom claims she found my sister in the garden once, as a toddler, with half a caterpillar in her hand. I have to admit, the pic was genuinely gross. Good choices, I think, especially with the blender.

  13. This is good. I have been eating already nibbled by something tomatoes when my hubby is not looking. My garden has been hard worked and earned. Squash got some rot. Cut it off and prepare the rest.

  14. LOL! Just be very careful with the inversion method for your jam. Cook your recipe well (to a full rolling boil for at least 5 minutes) and make doubly sure you have HOT sterilized jars to ladle it into or you could end up with spoilage.

  15. Oh my...coming here late via Simple LIves Thursday..this post is a CRACK UP! Seriously, were you in my kitchen today?? I processed about 40 lbs of gorgeous cherries, and had this exact conversation with my Sis-in-law. Right down to the "what would the pioneers have done??" question!

    Our conclusion: Of course we are eating the worms! These cherries are just to beautiful not to! (pureed, cooked, dried...worm process quite nicely we found) And seriously, I'd eat a pound of worm before I'd eat a teaspoon of pesticide. How bout you?
    Shawna in Northern CA

    1. Well said. A tiny bug is a petty issue when compared to the chemicals used on pretty fruit on the grocery shelf.

  16. Shawna, AMEN!

    Nichole, I'm really careful with inversion, I hate it when I lose a seal.

    Donna, way to go! The best produce is the stuff the bugs have nibbled on. They know what tastes good.

    Elizabeth, just, ew.

    Lisa, Sheila, sorry to gross you gals out.

    Laurie, I totally agree.

    Marillyn, I would love to share your mango smoothies.

    Paula, finding bugs in my food is still startling. Don't tell anyone, but I sometimes have hysterics like a Victorian lady.

  17. This makes me smile and think of my Grandfather, he just would say 'more protein' and eat the fruit!

  18. I know this post is a couple of years old, but I have to tell you this. So I'm eating my cherries here in Mexico that I bought at the organic farmer's market. Little worms. I'm NOT a squeamish person, I'm great with bugs and spiders and snakes, but maggots will send me into my best girly-screaming mode on the right day. But I didn't get weirded out at ALL with these ones. So much so, that I had to Google them to see if I should trust my intuition (which said to just eat the cherries without looking) or if I really have been out of "civilization" for too long. And, you already know the answer. It was weird for it not to be weird. I'm eating delicious worms.
    Whatever - they sell fried crickets at the market too.

  19. Thanks for posting this witty and informative post. I'm convinced to at least reconsider throwing out my 15 lbs of free cherries, 70% of which contain maggots.

  20. Oh, and hilarious. I'm Krista too!

  21. I'm so glad this information is still here for another cherry season! Enjoy those worms, they're good for ya. ;)

  22. Brilliant post yup I eat them. :)

  23. Excellent write up. I had friends over to help pick my cherries Saturday - after tons had been eaten and picked I discovered worms in the cherries; I haen't told my friends though cause you are right they taste just the same with or without worms.

  24. I opened the last of my 8 bags of washed, pitted sour cherries that I picked from a neighbors tree and froze several months ago. The rest of the cherries were sold in delicious pies at a fundraiser/bake sale. Today I was horrified to see little maggots boiling to the top of my pie filling! I almost dumped the whole thing, when my 20 yo daughter came home so excited that I was making cherry pie! I spent a good half hour searching, and scooping them out. I am still feeling a bit sick about it. It will be my secret that I take to my grave. Those bake sale pies were delicious, and brought in some good cash. Plus I really want my family to enjoy this last pie!

  25. So glad you wrote this as I eat my amazing cherries from my tree. I'm up in way n. id and it was a record 106 today! Those cherries were my breakfast, lunch and dinner, too hot for anything else, but it looks like I got some protein after all :-) I have heard that if you plant chives at the base of your tree it's supposed to help? Thanks and your pic looks exactly like my youngest daughter lol!

  26. Super bummer this year - I think the birds knew something as they, for once, let me have the cherries and it looks like I have about 50% infested. I have also just read a bunch of stuff about how to reduce/manage infestations in following years, I may need the extra protein for all the work it would take to get rid of the bugs - not sure I am too happy with a long-term sharing arrangement. Good blog though, helpful to hear the experience of others.

  27. I just ran into this same problem!
    I put mine in a plastic zip lock bag for a day they all well I hope all came out of the cherry and died from no air washed them off again Good to go.
    But nope I still won't eat them. Lol
    It gross me out to bad I won't even get them from Walmart just in case love love love Cherry's but I hate hate hate hate hate bugs more. But I still pick them for my family and try to de worm them! Thank u so much for sharing so helpful

  28. I just ran into this same problem!
    I put mine in a plastic zip lock bag for a day they all well I hope all came out of the cherry and died from no air washed them off again Good to go.
    But nope I still won't eat them. Lol
    It gross me out to bad I won't even get them from Walmart just in case love love love Cherry's but I hate hate hate hate hate bugs more. But I still pick them for my family and try to de worm them! Thank u so much for sharing so helpful

  29. oh my goodness I still don't know if I can do it!! I was given 2 ice cream tubs full of cherries, and then I found the maggots. I about cried. I didn't know if I could do it. I pitted half, before I caved into the yuck, and threw the other half out. Now I'm staring at all the pitting work I did, and wondering if I should toss them, or can them...I love cherry pie filling. I just don't know if I can do it, or even eat them knowing there were worms.

  30. Wow. Well, I've had a cherry tree for 37 years. My process is to feel the firmness of the cherry first and look for holes. If firm with no holes, I bite one side open looking for a worm then bite the other side. If no black poop or wiggling white worm wondering who turned thenlights on THEN, and only then, will I eat it!

  31. What I have done is I have washed the cherries and have checked them. I have put them in the fridge in the evening in a plastic bag and was going to eat them the next day.

    I took them out of the fridge still in the bag, and by the time I wanted to eat them, so by about 11 in the morning, I could see quite a few of these worms in the bag.

    This was very strange because I have never seen these worms before and was eating these cherries from the very same tree for many years.

    Never did this though I usually eat them straight from the tree. Or wash them but I have never put them in a bag like this.

    So not sure what to do because I have checked them and they all looked fine. Big massive juicy cherries with no holes whatsoever.

    But now have difficulties eating them. Its very strange that it took me this long to discover this, I have been eating these cherries for many years.

    But yes I have noticed that sometimes the holes are small or the whole cherry is sort of soft and those should not be eaten.

  32. Your post was a breath of fresh air and fun to see it still going the past few years from when you first posted. I discovered the maggots while picking from my tree and horrified threw the first batch out into the yard. But today I have a dinner party and need to make a cherry tart - I do not want to go to the store and buy some cherries. So doing a search on what these were I came upon page after page of how to use pesticides to get rid of them and it was horrifying especially regarding the extremely dangerous ones like malathion. I guess what we can't see or taste we don't care about even though it is poisoning us and the environment.

    I'm a practicing permaculturist and follow the online posting of Pascal Baudar who is a food wildcrafter and he will routinely mention using aphid honeydew for a sweetener or adding crickets to a dish. But the ick factor is strong and I realize I have this cultural distaste for eating bugs that I need to get over.

    So I resumed working with the cherries to have them ready for my tart. I'm not quite to the point of using them whole with maggots so have just split them open and removed them but I hope to make progress on my phobia as I continue gardening. Love hearing about all the experiences of everybody. I too have jumped back in alarm after peeling open corn and finding worms. Geez! I need to realize, as someone said, that if there are bugs on it, it must be good. The worms probably taste good too if they have been munching on sweet corn.

  33. thank you for all the great info. we've always just tossed in our mouth and eaten them. whole tree is wormy. neighbors tree, and, i do not like pesticides. (I'll check out your link on other methods).

    Now for my husband to decide what to do with them. His project. =)


    My Mom was excited about getting some. I let her know about worms. have not heard back yet. =)

  34. I love your honest and open attitude. great perspective. I would rather eat white worms than pesticides any day.