By Vicky Babcock
“Cherries on the ryse,” or on the twigs, was one of the street cries in London during the 15th century. These cherries likely were fruit from the native wild cherry, as the domestic cherry, introduced into Briton around 71 BC, disappeared sometime in the Saxon period. It was not reintroduced until Henry VIII’s reign in the early 1500’s. Ancient lore holds that the Virgin Mary—prior to the birth of Christ—once wished to taste some cherries that hung high above her head. She asked Joseph to pick them for her but he refused saying, “Let the father of thy child present thee with the cherries.” As the words left his lips the branch of the tree bowed to the Virgin’s hand, allowing her to gather the fruit and thus, silently reproaching Joseph for his surliness. Thus, the cherry is dedicated to the Virgin Mary (Plant Lore, Legends, and Lyrics: Embracing the Myths, Traditions, Superstitions, and Folk-Lore of the Plant Kingdom, Richard Folkard, 1884).
The ancient Lithuanians believed the demon, Kirnis, to be the guardian of the Cherry. In Germany and Denmark, tradition holds that evil spirits often hide themselves within old Cherry trees, causing harm to anyone who comes near. Folkard’s book also says that to dream of cherries denotes inconsistency and disappointment in life.
A relative newcomer to the States (1600’s), cherries have likely been consumed since prehistoric times. Romans and Greeks prized the fruit as did the Chinese. Its royal color and its tart flavor likely earned it a place on the tables of nobles and kings. The cherry tree probably originated in the territories of Asia Minor near the Black and Caspian Seas.
It turns out the sandy soil along Lake Michigan, as well as the tempering effects of the lake on the arctic air, create an excellent growing environment for cherries in our state. Michigan has the honor of being the leading producer of the tart cherry crop in the United States, with about 75 percen of the nation’s production, which is almost exclusively centered in the Traverse Bay area. Most of these tart cherries find their way into pies and pie fillings, in addition to preserves, jellies, juice and dried fruit. We are also a big producer of sweet cherries and farmer’s markets and roadside stands are rife with these beauties in July. Peter Dougherty, the first European settler in the Traverse Bay area, is credited with the introduction of the tart cherry tree here. In 1852, he planted a cherry orchard on Old Mission Peninsula. Much to the astonishment of the natives and settlers, the grove thrived.
Consumption of cherries has been linked with reduction of uric acid in the body, bringing great relief from the pain associated with arthritis and gout. In a study done by the USDA, it was discovered that consumption of 2 cups of Bing cherries reduced uric acid by as much as 15 percent. Cherries also help reduce inflammation by reducing the amount of C-reactive protein produced. Powerful antioxidants in cherries—especially the dark sweet variety—help keep cancerous cells from growing out of control. They are an excellent source of potassium, which can help reduce blood pressure by keeping sodium and potassium in balance. One cup of cherries contains as much potassium as a banana. Trouble sleeping? Tart cherries contain melatonin, a sleep aid, and in studies, two tablespoons of the juice were found to be just as effective as a melatonin supplement.
A cup of cherries comes in at less than a hundred calories, making it an excellent choice for your diet. Cherries contain many B-vitamins as well, which are essential for metabolism. So for a skinny choice, choose cherries!
2 tart pie apples such as Granny Smith or Spies, peeled and chopped
2 Anjou pears, peeled and chopped
1 cup pitted dark sweet cherries
¼ cup sugar
3 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1/3 cup quick cooking oats
1/3 cup flour
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup butter
½ cup pecan pieces
Combine fruits and ¼ cup sugar; spread in buttered 8×8 inch baking dish. In a large bowl, combine remaining ingredients except for pecans. Work together until crumbly. Stir in pecan pieces. Sprinkle mixture over fruit layer.
Bake in pre-heated 350 ◦ oven 50 minutes or until crisp is golden and bubbly. Serve warm with ice cream if desired.
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