Ever sampled a proper Maraschino cherry, made from a marasca cherry and marinaded in fermented marasca cherry juice? If so, you've probably wondered how most bars came to sell those worryingly-hued, day-glo cherries which bear scant resemblance to anything like the fruit which they once were, let alone a proper marasca cherry.
Now, author Amy Stewart has uncovered the origins of why genuine marasca cherries fell out of fashion and why the commonly accepted 'maraschino flavoured' cherry became so widespread: it was the combination of the growth of the Temperance movement and, it appears, a mixture of protectionism and xenophobia ahead of the First World War that led to genuine maraschino cherries falling out of favour.
In research for her upcoming book, The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Great Drinks (Algonquin Books, March 2013), Amy came across a paper written by the State Dairy and Food Commissioner for the Biennial report of the Dairy and Food Commissioner of Wisconsin in 1914.
It exhorts American not to be fooled by the 'So-Called Maraschino Cherries' on the market. "This label would lead one to believe that the article is in fact maraschino cherries. A chemical analysis of a product bearing this label shows, however, that such product is not maraschino cherries." It goes on to document the way such cherries are in fact made with baths of coal-tar dye and solutions of benzaldehyde. "As the process shows, there is in fact little other than the cellulose that is left of the original cherry."
It notes that genuine maraschino cherries are made from the marasca cherry, "a small black variety in Europe, preserved in the fermented juice of the marasca cherry flavored with the bruised pits."
In fact, this was but a reminder about what a genuine maraschino cherry was like. For two years earlier a report in the New York Times, itself quoting a publication called The Soda Fountain, lambasted the "seductive" and "foreign" maraschino cherry, and reported that Internal Revenue officials had banned maraschino cherries.
Only American cherries "without foreign savor and without entangling alliances" (this was the eve of the First World War) could have their place at American tables and at soda fountains, it said. "The soda fountain cocktail will now be in name as well as in fact a purely temperance beverage, healthful, luscious, satisfying and not owing either zest or vogue to the distillate of some foreign province, from fruit gathered by underpaid peasants".
Temperance obviously won out, and it seems Prohibition then sealed the genuine marasca cherry's fate - and probably that of the "underpaid peasants'" too.
Now you know. Long live the maraschino cherry!