Wednesday, February 3, 2016

National Cherry Month; Ah Bing

Jell-O Girl in February

There are more than 1,000 varieties of cultivated cherries in the United States but fewer than 10 are produced commercially. Basically, cherries can be divided into two groups; sweet cherries, which are yummy for eating right off the tree, and sour cherries, which are used in canning, cooking and as “pie cherries.” Today, for National Cherry Month, we are going to indulge in the brief history of a sweet cherry many of you are quite familiar with; the Bing Cherry.

According to John Mariani in The Dictionary of American Food and Drink, the history of the sweet cherry began at the crossroads of ancient civilizations in the fertile area between the Black and Caspian Seas in Asia Minor.

The cherry originated in Asia but was widely dispersed throughout Europe and North America in prehistoric times. European colonists found wild cherries in America and cultivated them, also crossbreeding them with European varieties.
Cherry Bounce | 1908

As you can see from the above recipe as found in The Boston Cooking School Magazine the subscriber from New Orleans is requesting a Cherry Bounce recipe from the magazine which is based in Massachusetts. I find this request quite interesting not to mention the widespread interest of cherries in 1908! I have an earlier recipe for Cherry Bounce in Marion Harland’s Common Sense in the Household ©1871 which has almost the exact recipe minus the water and only a gallon of “your best whiskey.” I should note, however, that Mrs. Harland’s recipe for Cherry Bounce calls for “4lbs. of sour and the same of sweet.” A modern recipe for Cherry Bounce can be found at Epicurious with this tidbit of info:

Among the few recipes known to have been used by the Washington family is this one for cherry bounce, a brandy-based drink popular in the eighteenth century. It seems to have been such a favorite of General Washington's that he packed a "Canteen" of it, along with Madeira and port, for a trip west across the Allegheny Mountains in September 1784.

This fruity, spiced cordial requires a bit of work and time, but the result is well worth the effort. After pitting, halving, and mashing the cherries, be prepared to set away the sweetened brandied juice for twenty-four hours and then again for about two weeks after infusing it with spices. Enjoy small glasses of cherry bounce at room temperature, and keep the remainder on hand in the refrigerator.

The fact that George Washington packed a “Canteen” of Cherry Bounce for a trip West in 1784, reiterates other articles I found claiming that wild cherries were indigenous in the colonies. Apparently, cherries were also “an important” crop in Pennsylvania at one time. As for Marion Harland and her Cherry Bounce, most likely the “sour” cherries she includes in her recipe were of the Red Kentish variety as they were not only the cherries Robert Herrick immortalized in one of his poems, it was the Red Kentish early settlers cultivated in 1629 in places such as Massachusetts.

Cherry ripe, ripe, ripe, I cry,
Full and fair ones; come and buy!
If so be you ask me where
They do grow, I answer, there,
Where my Julia’s lips do smile;
There’s the land, or cherry-isle.
Whose plantations fully show
All the year where cherries grow.

We all know the legend of Johnny Appleseed and his trek across American sowing and planting apple trees as he travelled. For cherries, the journey West was led by wagon.

In 1847, a man by the name of Henderson Luelling (sometimes spelled Lewelling) took an assortment of seven hundred fruit plants to Oregon. In that wagon were small cherry trees. Legend has it that, while other pioneers were attacked by tribes along the trail, the Luellings passed safely because their wagon was full of fruit trees.

Henderson Luelling (1810-1879) was a pioneering nurseryman who introduced varietal fruit to the Willamette Valley near Salem, Oregon and later to California. In 1847, Luelling, his wife, and eight children came west on the Oregon Trail, bringing a wagon loaded with an assortment of 50 or 60 varieties of apples, pears, peaches, plums, cherries, quince, black walnuts, hickory nuts, gooseberries, currants, and grapes. All told, the wagon had about 700 young plants, which he loaded into two long, narrow boxes in his wagon that were filled with charcoal, manure, and soil. He assiduously cared for them every day during the long journey, prompting his daughter to exclaim that he cared more about the trees than his family.

The first thing that came to mind while reading the safe passage legend was, how in the world did those fruit plants survive! I have a hard enough time taking care of a garden right in my back yard with all the comforts of gardening right at my finger tips. Imagine taking care of those plants, the family and worrying about what or who could be hidden in the landscape? Henderson Luelling’s story is one of great interest but not one we can “talk” about now. Suffice to say, he is remembered in history as the Father of the Pacific Fruit Industry.

Seth Lewelling, brother of Henderson, was yet another pioneer nurseryman. In the fall of 1850, Seth joined his brother Henderson at his nursery in Oregon bringing with him a considerable amount of fruit seed. For the next few years, their nursery operations were on such a large scale, Salem Oregon and its surrounding areas became know as Cherry City.

Seth Lewelling is best remembered for his work in developing new fruit varieties. Among these, two black cherries stand out. In 1860, the original Black Republican tree was grown from a seed of a Black Eagle cherry and, in 1875, a Black Republican planting produced a promising seedling that Lewelling named "Bing" after his faithful Chinese helper, Ah Bing. The Bing cherry would be Seth Lewelling's crowning achievement.

When Bing cherries were exhibited at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, people at first thought, because of their size, they were crabapples. According to reports, the large Bings averaged 35 cherries to the pound and sold in the East for three cents a cherry. (Salem-Cherry City)
original cherry tree pictured in 1904 Friends in Fruit
Black Republican Cherry Tree | 1904
The Black Republican was named to commemorate the abolitionist movement.

There seems to be a bit of confusion as to whether the Bing Cherry was named in honor of Mr. Bing because he was a loyal and hardworking employee or for other reasons. An article published in the May 1973 Bulletin of the Chinese Historical Society of America tells of the life of this Chinese horticulturist.

Ah Bing Story

Ready for some recipes??? Personally, my favorite way to enjoy sweet, plump Bing cherries is fresh right out of the bowl. For me, the season is waaaaaay to short which doesn’t lend itself to actually cooking with them. Tart cherries also have a short fresh season but at least they are readily available canned or frozen. (I do buy frozen Bings for my smoothies:) First up, Pork Chops with Cherry Apple Reduction Sauce harvested from Cooking In Style the Costco Way.

Pork Chops with Cherry Apple Reduction Sauce

I found this recipe for Cherry Twists El Charro in Mable Hoffman’s Deep-Fry Cookery. Yes, it does call for canned tart cherries but, I just couldn’t resist!

Cherry Twists El CharroCherry Twists El Charro

Next up, California Apricot-Cherry Cornmeal Cobbler as found in America’s Favorite Brand Name Old Fashioned Favorites ©1998.

California Apricot Cherry Cornmeal CobblerCalifornia Apricot Cherry Cornmeal Cobbler

If after reading all this cherry talk, you’re craving cherry recipes, may I suggest you hop over to Pattie’s Olla-Podrida where she celebrated National Cherry Month in a delicious way!

Celebrate National Cherry Month!

Did you see the Jell-O girl booklet at the top of this post? It’s just a little reminder that Jell-O week is celebrated the second week of February. Although, I would prefer Gloria’s Mason Jar Cherry Pies right at the moment, I’m sure Marion wouldn’t mind one bit if I whipped up this Apple Snow! (she’s been on quite the Jell-O kick lately:)

Jell-O Apple Snow Recipe

I want to take a moment to thank you all for your sweet comments about the February calendar. I’m so glad you all enjoy it! Just in case you missed it, or if you just want to down load it to keep it handy, the link is in the sidebar. As you might of guessed, I also have a National Cherry Month Pinterest board:)

Have a wonderful week everyone, I’ll be back next Wednesday to celebrate Southern Living Magazine’s golden anniversary. (I have tons of Southern Living Annuals:)

1. The Skinny on Cherry Nutrition
2. Famous People You Never Heard Of
3. Henderson Lewelling House