Dietribes: A Little Cherry History

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Cherries are everywhere in our cultural landscape—from Cherry Coke to Chekhov's famous "The Cherry Orchard" to Mary Poppins, where the Banks family lived on Cherry Tree Lane. And who can forget about old George Washington and that whole chopping thing? (Whether it's true or not, we all remember!) Cherries are everywhere, so let's find out a little bit more about this fragrant fruit.

"¢ Cherries share their genus, Prunus, with almonds, peaches, plums and apricots, and can grow in nearly every climate and condition in the world (including, apparently, the tundra). Edible cherry varieties originated primarily in Europe and western Asia. Although around 75 percent of world production originates in Europe, the United States also produces a number of species, with which you can acquaint yourself here.

"¢ My personal introduction to cherries came with the Maraschino, probably the most fake-but-still-edible "fruit" to exist, or as this article puts it, "the artificially flavored brine cherry, survivor of red dye cancer scares, that sits at the bottom of a Manhattan cocktail or at the summit of an ice cream sundae." Maraschino cherries were developed at Oregon State University in the 1920s, and the school still offers a course in the matter: Food Science and Technology 102—the Maraschino Cherry. Food for thought!

"¢ You may have seen the link I posted Saturday of a time-lapse video documenting cherry blossoms in Brooklyn. This type of tree came from one of several varieties originally given as a gift from Tokyo to the United States as a symbol of friendship. In fact, the Japanese also sent cherry trees to the State of Utah after WWII. The cherry was selected as the state fruit of Utah in 1997.

"¢ Bing cherries are the most popular variety in the US, with trees producing large, sweet fruit and wonderfully fragrant white flowers. The exact details of Bing's origin are not clear, but it was named in honor of a nursery foreman (and possible cultivator) by the name of Ah Bing. The first tree came from the seed of another new variety, Republican, in 1875. Today there are over 1000 varieties of sweet cherries, but Bing still tops the list both in popularity and production.

"¢ Cherries are not only tasty but also may have some incredible health benefits. Studies at the University of Michigan suggest that tart cherries can alter factors linked to heart disease and diabetes. Another study suggests tart cherries fight jet lag, and possibly arthritis.

"¢ Cherries are not without their myths. According to some accounts, President Zachary Taylor died July 9, 1850, after getting sick from eating cherries and milk at a July 4 celebration. It's been long believed cholera was the cause, but that still has not stopped generations of maternal warnings against the deadly cherries-and-milk combination (just like Pop Rocks and soda, your stomach will obviously explode). You have been warned!

spoonbridge.jpg"¢ For more fun with cherries, check out the Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture—a landmark at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden by husband and wife team Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. The cherry alone weighs 1,200 pounds. Learn more about how it was made here. Also try your hand at the International Spitting Competition. The current World Record stands at around 100 feet.

"¢ Reward yourself after a long day and snuggle up to an easy-to-make natural heating pad filled with cherry pits. Dried cherry pits retain heat and can be used to make heating pads or bed warmers.

So what's your favorite way to eat a cherry? Any delectable recipes to share?

Hungry for more? Venture into the Dietribes archive.

"˜Dietribes' appears every Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.

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May 14, 2008 - 11:18am
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