Easing the Flesh from the Pit: On Cherry Pies and “Women’s Work”

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I wonder if my mom ever made my dad cherry pies before they split. I imagine it is possible, though I can’t remember ever seeing my mom bake a pie, only smack her lips together when she bought sugar-free apple pies at the store. She swears she used to cook, back in the 70s when French cuisine was “in,” but she says my dad never really seemed to appreciate anything she prepared for him, so she gave it up.

Even though I can’t remember my mom ever making pies, I still watched her separate the pit from the flesh for my father each summer when she would drop me off at the farm where he lived with my stepmom. My mother tried to give him the best part of their marriage, which they both agreed was me, without the pit of their resentment for one another.

Anyone who has ever pitted cherries by hand knows that the pit is the foundation for the flesh of the fruit, which clings around it. It takes skill to ease the two apart with your thumb. I knew I was the part of their marriage both my parents wanted to preserve, but sometimes I still got confused about how much of the pit was intrinsic to me, the flesh.

These days my Dad says, “Food is food. You have to eat it to live,” any time the subject comes up. Still, I made him a cherry pie for his birthday this year, because I know it is his favorite and if he was going to say “thank you” to anyone for doing women’s work, which by definition is an expectation and not something men should say thank you for, it would be me, his only child.

I suspect part of the reason for my parents’ divorce was that my mom didn’t want me to grow up to be a pie-maker, but I am, even though I don’t really have anyone to bake pies for except my father. I know I’m supposed to separate the hard and poisonous parts of myself out and discard them, presenting only the sweet and beautiful for men.

This winter I’ll turn 34. I’m not married, childless. I’ve never really been in a serious relationship—not the kind where you bake cherry pies for someone. I think I believe I can bake my way into someone’s heart even though my therapist would caution me otherwise. Don’t ever believe them when they say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach—it isn’t, or I’d have someone to make pies for already when pie cherries ripen for two weeks each summer. This doesn’t really seem like a choice I’ve made so much as something that feels inevitable, like the weeping of overripe fruit from a tree. It rolls around in my head while I stand in the kitchen pitting pounds of cherries I plan to freeze to make pies for I don’t know who someday.

It’s quiet in the kitchen as the bowl slowly fills with pitted cherries in front of me. I suck the tartness out of the flesh of a cherry, rolling the sourness on my tongue. Alone, I’m making pies for no one, because I’ve become a pie-maker, a woman who separates pit from flesh just because.

Lisa C. Knisely is a freelance writer and assistant professor of the liberal arts.

Cherries in colander photo by ajburstein CC BY
Cherry pie photo by Arek Olek CC BY

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