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The Extraordinary History of Cherries
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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.
The ultimate celebration of cherries is the National Cherry Festival. It's held every year in July in the "Cherry Capital of the World"-Traverse City, Michigan. This festival originated from a spring ceremony known as the "Blessing of the Blossoms." Thousands of visitors come from all over the world to celebrate the harvest and, of course, eat cherries.
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