The Cherries of the Gorge
Cherries have pleased the palates of food lovers
for centuries. Their ruby-red color and tangy taste won cherries
a place on the tables of Roman conquerors, Greek citizens and
Chinese noblemen. Cherries were brought to America by ship with
early settlers in the 1600s.
Later, French colonists from Normandy brought
pits that they planted along the Saint Lawrence River and on down
into the Great Lakes area. Cherry trees were part of the gardens
of French settlers as they established such cities as Detroit,
Vincennes, and other midwestern settlements.
Modern day cherry production began in the mid-1800s.
Peter Dougherty was a Presbyterian missionary living in northern
Michigan. In 1852, he planted cherry trees on Old Mission Peninsula
(near Traverse City, Michigan). Much to the surprise of the other
farmers and Indians who lived in the area, Dougherty's cherry
trees flourished and soon other residents of the area planted
trees. The area proved to be ideal for growing cherries because
Lake Michigan tempers Arctic winds in winter and cools the orchards
The first commercial tart cherry orchards in
Michigan were planted in 1893 on Ridgewood Farm near the site
of Dougherty's original plantings. By the early 1900s, the tart
cherry industry was firmly established in the state with orchards
not only in the Traverse City area, but all along Lake Michigan
from Benton Harbor to Elk Rapids. Soon production surpassed other
major crops. The first cherry processing facility, Traverse City
Canning Company, was built just south of Traverse City, and the
ruby-red fruit was soon shipped to Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee.
America's newest tart cherry variety is a dark
tart cherry similar to the dark-skinned European Morello. This
U.S.-grown variety is called Balaton® (named for a lake in
its native Hungary). This variety was developed by horticulturists
at Michigan State University and has been field tested by growers
in Michigan, Utah and Wisconsin.
In the Northwestern part of the United States, cherry orchards
also flourished. In 1847, Henderson Lewelling planted an orchard
in western Oregon, using nursery stock that he had transported
by ox cart from Iowa. Lewelling Farms became known for its sweet
cherries with orchards coming into production during the 1870s
The most famous sweet cherry variety is the
Bing cherry; this cherry variety got its name from one of Lewelling's
Chinese workmen. Another sweet cherry variety is the Lambert,
which also got its start on Lewelling Farms. The Rainier cherry,
a light sweet variety, originated from the cross breeding of the
Bing and Van varieties by Dr. Harold W. Fogle at the Washington
State University Research Station in Prosser, Washington. The
Bing, Lambert and Rainier varieties together account for more
than 95 percent of the Northwest sweet cherry production.
Maraschino cherries, the kind most often used
in drinks and on ice cream sundaes, are made from sweet cherries.
The maraschino cherry originated in Yugoslavia and northern Italy
where merchants added a liqueur to a local cherry called the "Marasca."
This cherry product was imported to the United States in the 1890s
as a delicacy to be used in the country's finest restaurants and
hotels. In 1896 U.S. cherry processors began experimenting, using
a domestic sweet cherry called the Royal Anne. Less liqueur was
used in processing and almond oil was substituted for some of
the liqueur. Finally, the liqueur was eliminated altogether. By
1920, the American maraschino cherry was so popular that it had
replaced the foreign variety in the United States.
Today, the U. S. cherry industry produces
more than 650 million pounds of tart and sweet cherries each year.
Much of the cherry production is concentrated in Michigan and
the Northwest. Michigan grows about 75 percent of the tart cherry
crop. Oregon and Washington harvest about 60 percent of the sweet
cherry crop. Other states with commercial cherry crops are Utah,
Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania and California.
more information about cherries, go to http://www.cherrymkt.org/index.html