fruit varieties cultivated
CHERRY (Cerasus). As a cultivated fruit-tree the cherry is generally supposed to be of Asiatic origin, whence, according to Pliny, it was brought to Italy by Lucullus after his defeat of Mithridates, king of Pontus, 68 B.C. As with most plants which have been long and extensively cultivated, it is a matter of difficulty, if not an impossibility, to identify the parent stock of the numerous cultivated varieties of cherry ; but they are generally referred to two species, Cerasus sylvestris, the wild or corone cherry or gean-tree (the merisier of the French) and C. vulgaris, the common cherry-tree (French cerisier). The former species appears to be indigenous on the Mediterranean coasts, and in Central Europe, including the British Islands ; and it is probable that it is the latter species or some of its valuable cultivated varieties which was introduced by Lucullus.
The genus Cerasus includes trees of moderate size and shrubs, having smooth serrate leaves, white flowers, and a drupaceous fruit. They are natives of the temperate regions of both hemispheres; and the cultivated varieties ripen their fruit in Norway as far as 63° N. The geans are generally distinguished from the common cherry by the greater size of the trees, and the deeper colour and comparative insipidity of the flesh in the ripe fruit, which adheres firmly to the "nut" or kernel ; but among the very numerous cultivated varieties specific distinctions shade away so that the fruit cannot be ranged under these two heads. In the Fruit Catalogue published by the Horticultural Society in 1842, eighty varieties are enumerated, and to these considerable additions have since been made by cultivation both in Europe and America. The leading varieties are recognized as Bigarreaux, Dukes, Morellos, and Geans. Several varieties are cultivated as ornamental trees and on account of their flowers.
The cherry is a well flavoured sub-acid fruit, and is much esteemed for dessert ; but it should be used cautiously, as, especially if not quite ripe, it has a tendency to disorder the bowels. Some of the varieties are particularly selected for pies, tarts, &c., and others for the preparation of preserves, and for making cherry brandy. The fruit is also very extensively employed in the preparation of the liqueurs known as kirschwasser, ratafia, and maraschino. Kirschwasser is made chiefly on the upper Rhine from the wild black gean, and in the manufacture the entire fruit-flesh and kernels are pulped up and allowed to ferment. By distillation of the fermented pulp the liqueur is obtained in a pure colourless condition. Eatafia is similarly manufactured, also by preference from a gean. Maraschino, a highly valued liqueur, the best of which is produced at Zara in Dalmatia, differs from these in being distilled from a cherry called marasca, the pulp of which is mixed with honey, honey or sugar being added to the distillate for sweetening. It is also said that the flavour is heightened by the use of the leaves of the perfumed cherry, Cerasus The wood of the cherry tree is valued by cabinetmakers, and that of the gean tree is largely used in the manufacture of tobacco pipes. The American red cherry, Cerasus serotina, is much sought after, it being compact, fine-grained, not liable to warp, and susceptible of receiving a brilliant polish. The bark of this species is very highly esteemed in America as a mild tonic and sedative medicine, and is coming into use for the same purpose in Great Britain. The kernels of the perfumed cherry, C. Mahaleb, are used in confectionery, and for scenting toilet soap. A gum exudes from the stem of cherry-trees similar in its properties to gum arabic.