Cherry Blossom (Chicago Style)
Add all ingredients to a mixing glass
Stir with ice and strain into a coupe
Garnish with a fresh cherry
* * *
First things first. I’m calling this drink “Chicago Style” because I pulled it from the Chicago Bartenders 1945 Bar Guide and not from the Savoy Cocktail Book, which offers a whole different libation – the more common version – with the same name. Of course, then I went ahead and mucked around with the Chicago version, so maybe this one should actually be “Dutch Style” or “Chicago Dutch” or – nah, it’s all getting too complicated. I’ll leave it at “Chicago” and make my mea culpas below.
If we’re calling for fresh cherry juice, it must mean that it’s cherry season – or, at least, the beginning of it. Local and regional sweet cherries are currently hitting the markets, and you should be seeing Bings and Rainiers at your local grocery stores. However, if you have a cherry growing region near you, you’re liable to find many more varieties of the fruit, some of which you may have never encountered before. Just thirty minutes from my house rests the Leona Valley, and the varieties which are grown there include Andy Gee’s Son, Bing, Brooks, Early Burlat, Lapin, Rainier, Sandra Rose, Stella, Tartarian, Tieton, Utah Giant, and Van — not to mention a few more sour varieties which will be ready next month.
Of course, when we think cherries in America, we think – at least, we should think – Michigan. Traverse City, which sits near the very top of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, has become the self-proclaimed “Cherry Capital of the World,” with commercial cultivation going back to the late 1800s. According to the folks at the National Cherry Festival, growing in the region was kick-started by a Presbyterian missionary named Peter Dougherty, who in 1852, planted the first crop. Much to the surprise of everyone (isn’t that always the case in these stories?), Dougherty’s cherry orchard flourished, and by the early 1900s, the area’s tart cherry industry was firmly established. If you consider the time period we’re discussing here, it should be no surprise that the bulk of Michigan’s industry centered around cherry varieties – such as the tart Montmorency – which excel in preserved states: baked, canned, juiced, etc. And while other varieties and preparations are available, tart cherries still rule today.
Of course, tart cherry season is still a month away, and we have other plans for that. Today, we’re concerned with the sweet varieties, and it’s Bings that I used in our Cherry Blossom. Juicing cherries is, fortunately, a lot easier than you might suspect. I used my centrifugal juicer, which is simply one of the most invaluable pieces of equipment in my arsenal, but there’s an even easier method offered up by editor Shelley Wiseman at Gourmet.com. For a cocktail, of course, removing as much foam as possible from the juice is key, but I guarantee that you won’t get all of it. Just do your best.
As for why I chose the Chicago recipe – well, if you are familiar with the area, you’ll know that Chicago is but a hop, skip, and a jump from Michigan. By 1945, the Michigan cherry industry would have been well-entrenched, and fresh juice would have easily been obtainable in Chicago. Since we like fresh things around here, this recipe seemed perfect for the kick-off of cherry season. However – as I mentioned at the top – even though I’m using the Chicago Bartenders’ recipe, I couldn’t leave well enough alone.
The change I made – replacing the Dry Gin with Genever – takes the drink from being okay, if a bit uninspired, to a whole new level of deliciousness. In many old Genever recipes, you’ll often find Maraschino liquor, which, despite its almond characteristic, is made from the stones of cherries (marasca cherries, to be precise). Even in cooking, almonds and cherries are natural companions, so it was no leap for me to reach for the Bols bottle here instead of our Leopold’s. The malty flavor of the spirit marries beautifully with the sweet-tart cherry notes, and of course, the Angostura brings in a whole slew of spices. On a hot day, I would be really tempted to throw this one over some ice and top it off with a bit of soda – but as it stands, it’s a wonderful way to toast the start of the season – cherry season, that is.
More Info: This year’s National Cherry Festival is from July 2nd to the 9th. If you’re in the region, swing by – don’t miss Kansas in concert or, strange as it may seem, Elmore Leonard. If you happen to live in the Los Angeles area, see the Leona Valley Cherry Grower’s Association for directions to a number of U-Pic farms.