The cherry has a complex and interesting history.
Cherries originate from Asia and through the centuries have
been cultivated by different peoples in many different
lands. Today, cherry trees can be found all over the world.
It is said that cherries date back as far as 300 B.C., named
after a Turkish town of Cerasus. Throughout the years,
cherries have been enjoyed for their wonderful taste as well
as for their beauty. They have touched the palates of Roman
conquerors, Greek citizens, and Chinese nobelmen.
It was only in the 1600s that cherries were brought to
America. They reached the Great Lakes area when French
colonists from Normandy brought pits and planted them along
the Saint Lawrence River and down into the Great Lakes
region. Cherry trees were an important part of the gardens
of French settlers as they established cities, such as
Cherry production as we know it today began in the 1800s. A
Presbyterian missionary, Peter Dougherty, who was living in
Michigan in 1852, planted cherry trees on Old Mission
Penninsula (near Traverse City Michigan). His cherries
flourished and soon other area residents began to plant
cherry trees as well. This region turned out to be ideal for
growing cherries because Lake Michigan tempers the artic
winter winds and cools the orchards in the hot summers.
In 1893 the first commercial tart cherry orchards in
Michigan were planted on Ridgewood Farm near the site of
Dougherty's first orchard. By the 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. Within a short
period of time, cherry production climbed passed production
of other major crops. The first cherry processing facility,
Traverse City Canning Company, was built just south of
Traverse City. The company shipped to Chicago, Detroit, and
The Montmorency is the primary variety of tart cherry. It
was planted in the early orchards and is still used today.
The Balaton Cherry is the newest variety of tart cherry
grown in America. Dr. Amy Iezzoni developed this cherry
variety at Michigan State University. The Balaton cherry is
larger, firmer, and sweeter than the Montmorency cherry, and
has 3 times health benefits of other tart cherries. Although
production is limited, Engle Ridge Farms near Traverse City
is now growing the Balaton, and is taking orders now.
As tart cherries were flourishing in the northeast, the
northwestern region was beginning to grow sweet cherries. In
1847, Henderson Lewelling planted an orchard in western
Oregon. He used nursery stock that had been carried by oxen
all the way from Iowa. Lewelling Farms became known for its
sweet cherries as it began official production in the 1870s
The most famous sweet cherry got its name from one of
Lewelling's Chinese workmen. Another sweet cherry that got
its start on Lewelling Farms is the Lambert. Later another
variety was by cross breeding Bing and Van varieties. This
was done by Dr. Harold W. Fogle at the Washington State
University Research Station in Prosser, Washington. Today,
the Bing, Lambert, and Rainer varieties combine to account
for 95 percent of the Northwestern U.S. sweet cherry
Maraschino cherries are well known for their use in drinks
and on ice cream sundaes. They are made from sweet cherries
and originate from Yugoslavia and northern Italy. There,
merchants added a liquere to a local cherry called the
"Marasca". This cherry product was imported to the
United States in the 1890s as a delicacy. It was found only
in the country's finest restaurants and hotels. Then, in
1896, U.S. cherry processors began experimenting by using a
domestic sweet cherry called the Royal Anne. They used less
liquere and substituted almond oil. Finally, the liquere was
eliminated altogether. By 1920, the American maraschino
cherry had gained such popularity that it's use had surpased
that of the foreign variety in the U.S.
Today the United States produces more than 650,000,000
pounds of tart and sweet cherries every year! Much of the
cherry production is centered in Michigan and the Northwest.
Michigan grows about 75 percent of the tart cherry crop.
Oregon and Washington harvest approximately 60 percent of
the sweet cherry crop. Other states have notable cherry
production, too: Utah, Wisconsin, New York, Pennslyvania,
The ultimate celebration of cherries is held in the
"Cherry Capitol of the World", Traverse City,
Michigan, at the National Cherry Festival. It is held every
year in July. This festival began from a spring ceremony
known as the "Blessing of the Blossoms". Every
year, thousands of visitors come from all over the world to
celebrate the harvest, and of course….to eat cherries!