Monday was Presidents Day, when we paid homage to two of our greatest presidents: Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. While there were celebrations throughout the land honoring these distinguished gentlemen, there was nary a mention of Washington’s contribution to the popularity of cherries.
Although George never chopped down the cherry tree and never had to confess to the dastardly deed, his connection to the cherry remains a part of history.
If George were still around, he would be happy to learn that because of the “cherry tree” legend, February is National Cherry Month.
Those glorious globes of crimson deliciousness have a fascinating history and have been bringing enjoyment to gourmets since ancient times. Cuttings from cherry trees have traced the cherry back as far as the Assyrians and Babylonians, who first cultivated them. The fruit also figures significantly in both folk and hallowed legends. In the Middle Ages, all across Europe, cherry fairs celebrated the fruit’s short and valuable growing season with dancing, feasting and other favorite forms of earthly ribaldry. In scholarly clerical circles, the cherry was revered as a symbol of heaven’s glory, the unattainable fruit forsaken by mortals for the apple, which survives all seasons.
The very first culinary journalist, Pliny the Elder, rhapsodized about the cherry as early as the first century B.C. Even before that, the Etruscans were cultivating them. When the Romans went off to war they carried this highly prized fruit along with the routes of the conquests. As they moved along they left a trail of cherry pits to take root and grow.
Cherry trees were brought to the New World by the first settlers along the Atlantic seaboard. When the French settled along the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes, they brought seedlings with them. It was the English settlers who brought seedlings for the Kentish cherries, which thrived in Massachusetts. The Hudson Bay Co. is responsible for the cherries that are grown in Oregon.
A Presbyterian missionary, Peter Dougherty, is credited with planting the first cherry orchard in Michigan and, in essence, jump-starting the growing of cherries as a commercial enterprise. Farmers in the region scoffed at the idea of successfully harvesting a cherry crop but, nonetheless, Dougherty planted a cherry orchard in 1852 on the Old Mission Peninsula, a narrow strip of land that juts out into Grand Travers Bay just north of Traverse City, Mich.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, GEORGE
Friday is George Washington’s birthday and an ideal time to indulge in any number of cherry preparations. Canned cherries (in simple syrup) or canned cherry pie filling make dessert preparation simple and elegant, while fresh cherries make a refreshing and pleasurable treat that is healthy and low in calories. A cup of fresh cherries contains only 82 calories.
Here are some simple, quick recipes for Washington’s Birthday and for any other occasions when you crave a quick and delicious treat:
■ Combine equal parts chocolate pudding and cherry pie filling for a quick dessert.
■ For a delicious and quick barbecue, add ginger and teriyaki sauce to cherry pie filling. Blend until smooth and brush on chicken, turkey or sirloin steaks as they are grilling.
■ Add well-drained canned cherries to cornbread along with a bit of cheese.
■ For an easy version of Black Forest cake, prepare your favorite chocolate cake and bake in two layers. After the cake cools, put cherry pie filling in the middle and top of the cake. Finish sides with whipped cream.
■ Add cherry pie filling to a cheesecake recipe for a great and unique dessert.
■ Add 2 cups of dried cherries to your regular poultry dressing and wait for the accolades.
Fresh cherries are available year-round and are not only delicious but provide many health benefits. They are considered one of the healthiest fruits and their beauty and flavor make them a champion among the fruit family.
Doris Reynolds is the author of “Let’s Talk Food” and “When Peacock Were Roasted and Mullet was Fried,” for sale in the lobby of the Naples Daily News. Contact Doris Reynolds at firstname.lastname@example.org.