Centuries-old Cherries Unearthed at Mount Vernon

Centuries-old Cherries Unearthed at Mount Vernon

Did you see the amazing archaeological news out of Mount Vernon?  The historic home of George Washington has recently made a fascinating discovery - centuries-old cherries buried beneath the grounds of the estate. Every person who has ever made pickles, canned green beans, or made jams for canning, felt his heart leap upon hearing this news. This exciting find sheds light on the agricultural practices of the past and provides a glimpse into the history of food and homemaking.

What do the cherries reveal about the past?

The unearthed cherries offer a unique opportunity to study the cultivation and preservation techniques used on the Mount Vernon Estate. Through DNA analysis, scientists hope to discover the variety and method of preservation.  I always want to know about the foodways of different cultures all over the world. Does food history interest you? I wonder if any spices were used? Were other fruits preserved?  Can we learn anything about the climate in the 1774 growing season? It's an incredible opportunity to gain insights into the varieties of cherries grown during Washington's time and how they were utilized in cooking and food preservation.

Why are these cherries significant?

The principal archeologist for the dig at Mount Vernon said finding perfectly preserved food that is 250 years old is virtually unprecedented.  These cherries are more than just a relic of the past - they represent a tangible connection to the history of Mount Vernon and the people who lived and worked there. Can we find out more about Doll, the enslaved woman whom Martha appointed Head of Kitchen and whose preserved cherries she wrote of fondly in a letter? By studying these cherries, historians can piece together a more complete picture of daily life at the estate and the agricultural practices that sustained it. 

So, how did George and Martha use these cherries?

The Washingtons enjoyed preserved cherries in Martha's famous Cherry Bounce Cocktail. George and Martha liked to have brandied cherries at the ready.  Martha's recipe for the cocktail survives to this day. Legend has it that he also took a flask of this concoction with him in 1784 on a trip across the Allegheny mountains. Sounds dangerous to be drinking in the mountains without GPS and a cell phone!  But perhaps all one needs is the Cherry Bounce for a bit of liquid courage?

Martha's Cherry Bounce recipe is a cordial meant to marinate for several months.  Made in the summer during cherry harvest, it was typically imbibed over the Christmas holiday and winter season.  But if you're looking for something you whip up on the fly, I used this recipe for a quick cocktail that gives the idea of this patriotic beverage. I went with Collins cherries as I felt compelled to buy American! My friend, Amy, who owned a cocktail mix business, gave me the hot tip that for added deliciousness, she recommends Luxardo cherries in this quickie cocktail. 

As Mount Vernon continues to uncover the secrets hidden beneath its grounds, the discovery of these centuries-old cherries serves as a reminder of our nation's rich history and the value of fruit preservation, canning and home keeping. By appreciating this discovery we can gain a deeper understanding of the past and raise a glass of this all-American cocktail with gratitude for the blessings of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Happy 4th of July!  

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