A Short History of the Cherry


"Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom upon the bough…"
A. E. Housman (1859-1936)

Orient, Asia Minor


some claim that the word cherry is a corruption of the Sanskrit "karaza," meaning "What juice, what flavour!" - an assertion open to debate.

It is also said that the first cherries came originally from Kerasos, a Greek word meaning "horn." It was from "kerasos" that other European languages derived their names for this fruit: cerise in French, cereza in Spanish and cherry in English.

History and Custom
According to legend, birds leaving the Orient dropped cherry pits all along their flight towards the west, which is why cherries came to be found in Greece and Rome where they adorned the table of Lucullus. This renowned gastronome, a Roman general by profession, often made long side trips during his campaigns to seek out some rare spice or unusual fruit for his table in his quest for new tastes and harmonious flavours. Thus it was that he brought the cherry from Asia Minor to Italy.

The Emperor Charlemagne decreed that in his kingdom cherries be planted next to blackberry bushes. Later, in the Middle Ages, cherries became a regular part of the menu, eaten either raw or cooked in wine and served as a dessert.

Cherries are part of a long love story going back to the time of the Gauls. In certain provinces of France, a cherry bough was hung above the door of rather shy girls. When cherry season arrived, many towns included a cherry spitting contest in their festivities - in Francesca it was the whole cherry; in Noyon just the pit. The record is 11 metres!

In the 18th century in the Montmorency region, famous for its cherry production, you could even rent a cherry tree by the day and pick fruit at your leisure.

Countless Japanese engravings show light bunches of flowers arranged by some artistic sort on a knotty branch…. This is the tree of springtime, the May tree, symbol of purity and timeless bliss which gives rise to outdoor celebrations - for the occasion people bring along moshis, rice cakes wrapped in cherry leaves. The hilt on Samurai swords was decorated with the cherry, symbolizing war and destiny. On the other hand, it also signifies happiness: on their wedding day the bride and groom drink an infusion of cherry blossoms.

One day, one of the Spanish favourites of the Moorish king Abderraman III was overcome by melancholy and asked the king to show her snow in April. Wanting to satisfy her whim, he took her into the isolated valley at the foot of the Gredos mountains, in the present-day region of Estremadure, to show her the white carpet of snowy flowers created by the thousands of blooming cherry trees.

It is claimed here that cherries were planted in the 14th century in the valley of Jerte, 220 km southwest of Madrid. Some historians favour the explanation that they were introduced by the Moors, while other versions go back to the Roman conquest of the Iberian peninsula when the Carthaginians were being expelled from this region founded by Hannibal.

In Catholic Switzerland it is said that Christ put the stem on the cherries, meaning that in a tangible way he oversaw every detail on earth, even to the point of attaching each cherry to a bunch.

The Mores of the Cherry
The cherry, flushed red with pleasure or with shame, has often contributed to the vocabulary of chivalry. In certain French provinces a cherry bough was hung above the doorway of rather shy girls. On the other hand, in North America the expression "to lose one's cherry" refers to losing one's virginity.

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