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 in summer.
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
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
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