Tools of the Fruit Trade

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melon balls

Summer’s bounty of fruit brings out the intrepid pioneer wife in all of us. When cherries go down to a buck a pound and ripe wild berries perfume vacant lots, we dream of canning, pie baking, and dehydrating fruit to hold on to that summer feeling (and summer harvest) all year.

Baking and preserving fruit does take some labor: Apples must be peeled and cored; cherries must be pitted. And don’t get me started on what has to happen to concord grapes before you can make a pie with them.

Luckily, there are kitchen tools to make some of this work go faster.

Now, bear in mind, there are useful kitchen implements and annoying kitchen implements. A useful kitchen tool is something that you feel has made your kitchen tasks easier/better/more pleasurable. Then there are the gadgets that get used once, are a pain to clean, and eventually work their way to the very bottom of the junk drawer, never to appear. The ultimate annoying summer produce kitchen gadget may be the corn holder. You break them out maybe once a year for irony’s sake; the rest of the time they reside in the kitchen drawer, waiting patiently for you to lacerate your hand on the pointy tines when you are pawing through the drawer for a kitchen tool that is actually useful. If you must eat your corn when it’s still so hot you’re burning your fingers, use golf tees.

Everything Old Is New Again

Cherries and cherry pitter Some useful gadgets have a long history and have been updated through the years. The modern plastic versions of these tools are just fine, but If you can thrift, eBay, or inherit an antique version of these tools, so much the better. Here are a few old-fashioned tools for wrangling fruit.

Cherry pitter My favorite vintage tool is the cherry pitter. There are a few different styles of antique cherry pitters out there, but the one I have is one of the simplest. Looking like one of the instruments from David Cronenberg's Dead Ringers, my vintage (and most modern ones, too) cherry pitter is shaped like a set of tongs. One side of the head has a small depression for the cherry; the other a thin rod. When you bring the handles together, the rod pierces the cherry and pushes the pit out. The bonus is that it's so ingenious and fun to use that you can often get your 8-year old to pit enough cherries for a lattice-top pie in the time it takes you to prepare the dough.

melon ballerMelon Baller Will you be making a melon basket for your barbecue this summer? Then the simple melon-baller can help. Just chop your melon in half and rotate the baller to dig out the flesh in nice, round pieces. Unlike some of the other tools mentioned here, melon ballers are actually pretty versatile. Among other things, you can use your melon baller to turn out perfectly portioned rounds of dough for mini-cookies, too.

huller-bed-bath-beyondStrawberry Huller Jam makers often despair at the work of hulling (removing the stem) out of a flat or two of fresh strawberries. Oh sure, you could lop the tops off with a paring knife, but doing so sacrifices a fair amount of the berries’ fleshy shoulders. Instead, find yourself a strawberry huller. These short, rounded, wide, blunt tweezers neatly pinch out the residual stem and calyx (the ruff of green around the stem) with minimal waste. It's faster than a paring knife, too.

apple parerApple Parer Would a cast-iron, crank-operated apple peeler fall into the category of useful current-day tool or an antique that provides lessons in the mechanics of everyday machines? It's hard to know which, but there is another old-fashioned tool that is a must for any apple-loving family, especially one with young children: The apple corer/slicer. Fit the circle of blades on the top of an apple or pear and press down. Voila, slices of apple perfectly sized for little hands

Shock of the New
There are some new fruit tools that work great too.

Mango Pitter A newfangled device that works along the same lines as the apple slicer, the mango pitter takes the anxiety out of getting into a luscious tropical fruit. The mango pitter doesn't do all the work for you, though. You still need to know how to give that mango a hedgehog cut.

citrus peelerCitrus Peeler Does the thought of getting citrus peel under your fingernails make you think twice about eating an orange? An inexpensive citrus peeler can help you get your vitamin C without fingers that smell like orange oil all day. Just use the sharp end of the tool to score the skin, then insert the blunt end and peel off the skin and bitter pith. It's handy around the holidays when you're sure to be making batches of chocolate-covered candied grapefruit peel.

You’ll have to decide for yourself whether any of these tools is worth a spot in your drawer. After all, one woman’s use-it-every-single-day tool is another woman’s dust-gatherer.

Once you acquire your cherry pitter or strawberry huller, you’ll be wanting some good summer fruit recipes to go with it. Here are a few from The FruitGuys’ archives:

Really Easy Strawberry Rhubarb Turnovers
No need for any special tools to deal with rhubarb—a sharp knife is good enough.

Balsamic Black Pepper Strawberries
This combination is surprising, elegant, and just plain delicious.

Easy Berry-Cherry Tart
Use both your huller and pitter for this one!

Fruit Soup
Cool refreshment on a hot summer’s night.

Miriam Wolf is a Portland based writer, editor, and health and wellness coach.

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