Cherries Maraschino

Unless you have a home bar and know people who drink Manhattans, Old Fashioneds or the occasional Tom Collins, it’s unlikely that you’re going to have any maraschino cherries. Oh, you’ll buy a jar during the holidays or if you’re having a kid’s birthday party, but otherwise maraschinos aren’t a standard kitchen item at all. On the other hand, bartenders have been stocking maraschino cherries next to the stuffed olives since before Prohibition, and in their heyday soda jerks routinely placed them atop sundaes and in sodas.

The term “maraschino” originates from the Marasca cherry—a sour, dark variety cultivated on the coast of Dalmatia (now part of Croatia) beginning in the mid-19th century. The original version was brined in ocean water, then preserved in a liqueur made from its own juices, and ground-up pits. In the 19th century, these became popular in Europe, but the supply was so small that they became a delicacy for the rich and royalty and other cherries came to be preserved in various ways and sold as “maraschino.”

Fine bars and restaurants in the United States began serving the cherries in the late 19th century. To meet the growing demand, by the turn of the century American producers were experimenting with other processes for preserving cherries, with flavors such as almond extract rather than the original alcohol liqueur and substitute Royal Anne (‘Napoleon,’ or ‘Napoleon Bigarreau’) cherries. In 1912 the USDA defined “maraschino cherries” as “Marasca cherries preserved in maraschino” under the authority of the Food and Drugs Act of 1906. The artificially-colored and sweetened Royal Anne variety were required to be called “Imitation Maraschino Cherries” instead. Food Inspection Decision 141, signed on Feb. 17, 1912, defined Marasca cherries and maraschinos.

Ernest H. Wiegand, a professor of horticulture at Oregon State University, developed the modern method of manufacturing maraschino cherries using a brine solution rather than alcohol since alcohol dehydrated the fruit, shrinking them, making them hard and wrinkled. By focusing on preserving the shape and structure of the cherry in its plump, beautiful ripeness, Wiegand discovered that adding calcium salts to the preserving brine firmed up the fruit, a method that with modifications is still used  today.

 

Grinch Cookies

Forget those sissy elves, simpering Santas and ridiculous Rudolphs, here are the meanest Christmas cookies of all. These are fun, but they’re a mess to make, as you should expect; still, that’s all the more reason to get the kids involved in rolling the dough in the powdered sugar mixture, which is the sloppiest part. Put some Visqueen down and let ’em go.

Mix together one box vanilla cake mix—I use the French vanilla—two eggs, one stick softened butter (NOT margarine) a tablespoon of vegetable oil (NOT olive oil; can you believe I feel I have to say that?) and a little bottle of green food coloring: all of it. In another bowl, mix one cup corn starch with 1 cup powdered sugar. Using a large spoon, scoop up a lump of the (very stiff green) dough, shape it into a (ping-pong ball and roll it around in the starch/sugar mixture until coated. Place on a cookie sheet lined with lightly oiled parchment paper and bake at 375 for about 8-10 minutes. Keep an eye on them so that they’re baked through without any browning. Once done, remove from oven and let sit 2 minutes before placing on wire rack to cool completely.

For the hearts, mix a half cup each of flour, corn starch and powdered sugar mixed with a half stick soft butter, just enough cold water to make a stiff dough and plenty of red food coloring (eyeball it, but you want them really red, not pink) cut into heart shapes and bake on an oiled cookie sheet at 350 until crisp. Glue to the cookies with icing.

Serve wearing a Santa hat and a sneer.

The Whore of History

I was in the bar having a beer and sulking over my tilted world, thinking nothing worse could happen when Ricky slaps me upside my back and says, “You look like shit.”

Rubbing the bridge of your nose with three fingers and an extended pinky is not a gesture to use frequently, but it fit on this occasion, punctuated by an emphatic groan. “Don’t be mean to me, Ricky. Just buy me a beer and go away.”

“Oh, but Jesse, you realize if I buy you a beer, you buy my company!”

“Unfortunately, yes,” I said. “I was just hoping you’d picked up a sense of decency after going to that fund-raiser for the Belhaven Creek Preservation Society.”

“Oh, my GOD! You should have been there,” he said. “The buffet looked like a crime scene with croutons.”

“Go away, Ricky,” I said. “Just let me stew. Thanks for the beer.”

Then of course first thing Ricky did was run this acid blonde drinking a screwdriver off the stool next to me and sits down with a rude and sinuous motion. Once settled, he lit a cigarette, fiddled with his hair, took a sip, looked at me and said, “You can talk to me.”

I flashed back over a year of juggling one disappointment after another and looked at Ricky, at a face as open as a page. Yes, I could talk to Ricky; I could tell him things I could tell no one else because he wouldn’t care enough to remember. Ricky is one of those people who see others as catalysts for their own self-edification much as Truman Capote did, and Ricky reminded me a lot of Truman: wispy balding blond hair, tortoise shell specks and a wit like a whip, a good guy most of the time, but when he’d had too much scotch you had to dance around him because he got so feely-touchy.

“I know what it is anyway,” he said, leaning back and swiveling on his stool “It’s those damn landmark things.”

“There’s more to it than that… ,” I began.

“No there isn’t,” Ricky smiled as he cut me off. “They’re landmarks, those little pieces of earth that those who are paid to think they know more about history ordain are more valuable than other pieces.”

“That’s not it at all, Ricky, and you know it.” Now he’d gotten my dander up. “This is history! I mean, where do we draw the line? What do we keep? What do we lose?”

Ricky scooted his stool closer and patted me on the shoulder. “Jesse, what is history? What is it to you, I mean.”

“Very well,” I said, “History is a record of human events.”

“Ah,” he said, crossing one leg over the other and scowling at a fat women at a corner table, “Sure, history is a human construct, without us, history is only time, if that,” he said, waving at his sister Ralph. “And on a planet with so much water and vulcanism who’s to say today’s landmark might not be tomorrow’s tidal pool? And what about those “vast and trunkless legs of stone” in a desert stamped ‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings/Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!’?”. The eastern seaboard used to be eaten up with properties touting that ‘Washington Slept Here’ in hopes some ignorant patriot with a fat wallet might be in the market. Of course, you can say any sort of thing special applying any given set of values, but dates and personages tend to take precedent over architectural details, which if you ask me are more important.”

“No, no, no,” I said, putting my palms on my cheeks. “Ricky, history is important, it’s how we position ourselves in the great Scheme of things.”

“No, it isn’t,” he said, smiling. “It’s only as important as you think it is, otherwise it’s just somebody saying something about a house where somebody lived, or a tree somebody hid in or a place where somebody supposedly stepped ashore. These are just labels on things that history puts her price on. She’s a muse, you know, not beautiful at all, just a skinny old woman with gorgon hair who sits in that winter temple on a bluff with dull ignorance as her partner and repetitious greed as her pimp; she’ll sell you a sign, make out a certificate, roll over, get on her elbows, knees or up ass for enough money.”

“Ricky,” I said, “I really wish I hadn’t asked.”

“You’ll be okay,” he said. “Live well and love deeply.”