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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

HERITAGE CHERRIES

Donovan stretching

We have a heritage yellow cherry tree on the place. It must be about 75 years old, for it was a good size when my parents and I moved up here in 1951. The cherries are deliciously sweet.  My parents, not being horticulturists with a bent toward pruning, allowed it to continue its upward yearning until many of its bearing branches were out of reach.  Currently, only half of the tree survives, the other half having split off years ago. It's ancient but rugged, despite an occasional branch dying off.  Toward the end of July it bore heavily and Jay, my son Donovan and I made an effort to harvest as many as we could reach from the old wooden picking ladder.  Donovan is the tallest and has a great reach, so he was tagged to harvest the higher hanging fruit.

As I said, this is a heritage cherry, which means it is fungible and begins to turn brown a day after being picked.  I thought  only one yellow cherry variety existed until a few years ago when I came into possession of a wonderful large tome titled The Cherries of New York, by U.P. Hedrick, published in 1915, with beautiful color plates.  Being a dealer of rare books at the time and living far away from this particular old tree, I perused it and then sold it for a good price to a horticulturist in Australia. 

Now I wish I knew the cherry's variety and history.  Alas, The Cherries of New York is not a book one finds in the public library.  But wait.  Google has scanned books published before 1923 from major university libraries for our free download and use.  I do a lot of research on that site.  And sure enough, there is The Cherries of New York. None of  the color plates is of a white or yellow cherry, but of numerous long-forgotten black, red and orange varieties.  Toward the back of the book are short paragraphs on lesser-known varieties.  And here I find the white and yellow cherries.  So, is this tree a White French Guigne (1851),  whose flesh is creamy-white,  tender, melting, sweet; ripens in middle of July [in New York State]; or perhaps Fraser's White Tartarian (1803), pale yellow, approaching amber on the exposed cheek, with flesh juicy, pleasant, brisk subacid becoming sweet.  Or the White Transparent (1831), The White Spanish (1790), The White Mazzard (1838), The White Hungarian (1831), or The White French (1881).  Cherry varieties enough to make one dizzy. Or maybe it's the Yellow Glass (1903), introduced from North Silesia by Professor Budd of Ames, Iowa, its skin light lemon in color with firm yellow flesh, meaty, sweet, with colorless juice, and of good quality.  That fits it well.  But we'll never really know.

So, we ate some and dried the rest in our dehydrator for future use.  Chewy, sweet with just a hint of tartness.  And very brown and wrinkled.

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