Cherries are one of America’s most popular fruits. At the turn of the century, cherries were also an important crop in Grays Harbor County and people found many different ways to enjoy them.

Grays Harbor Cherry Farming

Settlers in the region grew fruit trees as soon as they could. For example, Samuel Bean, founder of Aberdeen, planted cherry trees shortly after his arrival in the 1860s. While some years proved too wet or cold for cherry cultivation, most years were good. In 1910 Bean was happy to report, after decades of enjoying the fruit, he had chopped some of his cherry trees, now ranging 14-16 inches in diameter, for lumber. He made part of the wood into frames for pictures sent to him from a nephew back east.

By the time Bean chopped down his trees, cherries had become one of the top orchard crops in Grays Harbor. Many farmers were “stump farmers,” trying to make a living in recently logged areas. A 1911 Elma booster campaign promised that these logged-off lands were perfect for cherries. Billing their town as the “Key to Grays Harbor,” community leaders claimed cherries there would “grow profusely and find voracious markets at home and in the Puget Sound cities.” Indeed, that same year, John Beck owned a 10-acre farm near Elma that included an orchard of 130 cherry trees.

black text on a white background that says, 'Cherry Brown Betty, Put a layer of finely chopped, well sweetened cherries in the bottom of a baking dish; cover with a fine bread-crums dotted thickly with bits of butter. put in the more cherries, more sugar, etc., continuing until the dish is full. have the top layer of buttered crums. Cover and bake for an hour, then remove the cover and brown. Served with hard sauce flavored with nutmeg - The Delinatitor for June.'
A recipe for Cherry Brown Betty reprinted from the Delineator in the May 13, 1903 issue of the Aberdeen Herald. The Delineator was a leading women’s magazine of the era. Photo courtesy: Washington State Library

Eating Grays Harbor Cherries

Cherries were a mainstay on restaurant menus in Grays Harbor. Cherry sauce, for example, topped English plum pudding at Christmas dinner in 1891 at the Vienna Bakery in Aberdeen. When the Aberdeen Hotel on Heron Street reopened in 1895, cherry pie was on their regular dinner menu.

In addition, cherries were a popular ingredient in recipe suggestions in the Aberdeen Herald newspaper. Some recipes were reprinted from national woman’s magazines. Mrs. O.F. Johnson, from Aberdeen, won second prize in the Kitchen and Dining Room Suggestions contest for the July 1908 issue of the National Food Magazine. Labelled “Fruit Course for Luncheon,” she wrote: “Take fresh pineapples, oranges, pears and peaches, and cut into round slices and set in icebox to chill. When ready to serve place on each plate first a slice of pineapple, then orange, pears, peach and on top a large red cherry stuffed with walnut. Pour over the whole a cherry syrup.”

As seen with her recipe, cherries were versatile and could be used in many ways. A look through the Aberdeen Herald shows recipes for cherries that included baked pudding, cake, brown betty, jelly, meringue, mousse, omelet, shortcake and of course, pies and tarts. Used as a garnish for meringue covered baked custard, maraschino cherries were something that could “tempt the failing appetites of the sick,” advised a column of suggestions “for invalids” in 1914. Cherries could also be used as garnishes for quince trifle, ice cream, “temperance” nonalcoholic punch or mixed with mayonnaise/pineapple juice and other fruit for a sandwich filling. Stuffed with walnuts, they could be served on salad with French dressing.

An unusual option, according to a 1914 article, was to pour brandy and kirsch on cherries and set them on fire in a chafing dish at the table and serve with molded cream as “des fruites flambes” or “burning fruits.” Cherries could also be used in fruit cake and English plum pudding.

When cherries were out of season cranberries could be used to make a “mock” cherry pie. “The thrifty housewife,” advised Anna Thompson in her “Kitchen Cupboard” on September 19, 1913, “makes the best of a good cherry year by putting up plenty of fruit. She will then have a surplus to last her over a season of scarcity.”  Thompson suggested making cherry jelly and marmalade as well as preserving and canning cherries. Besides this, cooks could also pickle cherries. Cherry sauce was another option – good with fried bananas, according to a 1903 article.

Grays Harbor Cherry Parties

Cherries also made a great theme for parties at the turn of the century. A 1913 article spoke of cutting thin slices of ice cream and decorating them with bits of candied cherries to look like playing cards at a card party.

The fruit was particularly popular at President Washington-birthday themed parties. As a child, the legend goes, George Washington chopped down a cherry tree. Caught by his father, the boy confessed, saying “I cannot tell a lie.” Although this never happened, Washington and cherries have been inseparable ever since.

Cardboard hatchets replace ‘tails’ and a cherry tree a ‘donkey’ for this children’s George Washington’s birthday-themed “hatchet party.” Aberdeen Herald, March 1, 1909. Photo courtesy: Washington State Library

Most Washington parties were for children. A 1915 article suggested mothers make a “Jack Horner” style cherry pie centerpiece out of crepe paper. Topped by George and Martha Washington figurines, red ribbons went from the “pie” to each guest’s plate. When pulled, they would reveal a small prize. The more active could try a “hatchet party.” As described in a 1909 article, a cherry tree, with a large notch in its trunk, was drawn in charcoal on an old sheet and hung up. Blindfolded and spun around three times, guests “pinned” red, white and blue cardboard hatchets on the target.

The Legacy of the Cherry in Grays Harbor

Cherries continue to be more than just a good thing to grow and eat. They are a symbol of carefree days and warm weather. The people of the past would agree. As the poem “Coming!,”  reprinted from the New York Sun in the Aberdeen Herald on June 22, 1908, said:  

“Again the violets and jonquils grow,/And Maytime zephyrs once more softly sigh./Again from feathered throats glad carols flow./Oh, welcome, harbingers of cherry pie!”   

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