Cherry, cherry

16 Oct

A couple of weeks ago we quoted a 1908 newspaper report describing how cocktail garnishes had fallen out of fashion in Chicago. Perhaps local trendsetters had grown bored of dropping cherries into Manhattans because they’d been doing it longer than anyone else—that’s if we choose to believe one of those probably apocryphal tales that abound in the history of cocktails. According to The Champion of Fair Play, the trade journal of the liquor dealers of Illinois, the man who changed the world forever was Col. Neumeister, a millionaire cheese manufacturer based in the Windy City:

Maraschino cherries at the time were a drug on the market with absolutely no sale. Last year there were upwards of five million bottles sold in the United States alone. The originator had over a thousand cases of the cherries that he could not dispose of for four dollars a case to bakers and confectioners, the only ones that had any use for them. He put a cherry into a Manhattan cocktail which was being served to himself and his friend, Potter Palmer, the foremost hotel man in Chicago at the time, and the proprietor of the world famous Palmer House. And right there was born the cherry in the cocktail idea that is now used in every civilized country in the world. A week later cherries were worth fifteen dollars a case and following the lead of the Palmer House bar, were used in nearly every bar in Chicago. New York and other cities soon came in line, and in thirty days the fad had extended to the Pacific Coast. Like the mint julep, so dear to every southern [sic], and other fancy drinks, the cocktail itself was not the invention of a professional mixologist, but a customer who wanted a change from the regular run of drinks.

— “Cherry in the Cocktail”, Mixer and Server, vol.20:5 (May 1911), p. 64.

From: Southern Pharmaceutical Journal, vol. 3:12 (1911), p. 20.

Then again perhaps Chicagoans had a better reason to forgo the cocktail garnish than mere boredom. For Harvey Washington Wiley (1844-1930), Chief of the Bureau of Chemistry of the US Department of Agriculture and father of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906,  the maraschino cherry was one of the worst examples of chemical adulteration in modern industrialized food production:

A very common method of treating cherries is to bleach them in a brine of common salt and sulphurous acid until all the natural color has disappeared. The cherries are then thoroughly washed for the removal of the salt and sulphurous acid and at the same time the juice and soluble portions of the cherry are removed, so that at the end of the washing there is little left but the cellular structure. The cherries are then saturated with sugar or sugar and glucose and colored a deep artificial red by coal tar dye or cochineal. If the natural flavour of the cherries has been destroyed by the bleaching an artificial flavour is often added. The product is a cherry of an even deep red tint, more or less sweet, according to the use of greater or less quantities of sugar of glucose, and having a flavour of almond oil. When cherries of this kind are preserved in a solution of alcohol, flavoured or unflavored they are called maraschino cherries. The name is taken from a kind of cherry first used in making the product. They are used to a very large extent with certain beverages such as cocktails, soda water, mint juleps, etc., and also in ice cream and other preparations for the table. Little can be said in praise either of the taste or wholesomeness of these preparations and they are valuable chiefly for their supposed attractive appearance. The offense which is committed against the aesthetic taste of the individual in the preparation of such a product probably offsets any good effect which comes from attractiveness or ornamentation. The product cannot be regarded in any sense as resembling even in color the natural fruit, since practically the whole of the natural fruit, except its cellular structure, has been withdrawn and artificial substances substituted in place thereof.

— Harvey. W. Wiley, Foods and their Adulteration (Philadelphia: Blakiston’s, 1907), p. 371.

Wiley’s fulminations against the food fakery behind the humble maraschino cherry led to this response:

From: The Denatured Cocktail”, Mixer and Server, vol.21:1 (January 1912), p. 49.


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