19th-century cherries

July 18, 2014

Another in a series of pieces by popular subscriber to Robert Merry’s Museum, William Hoyt Coleman (born 1840; died after 1830).  The list of cherry varieties is an astonishment to someone used to 21st-century grocery stores.  This column followed one on strawberries (thus, the opening).  Warner—who spent a summer in a garden—was Charles Dudley Warner; My Summer in a Garden is available online.

“Cherries and Visitors.” Christian Union 16 (18 July 1877): 58.

After strawberries, cherries. The robins may take their fill of these. There are enough for us all. First come the early reds, not very good, and soon succeeded by the black-hearts, crimsoning in the sun, then purpling all over the outside of the tree. Next come the white-hearts, the Gov. Woods and Yellow Spanish, large, round, blush yellow, firm and sweet. The Spanish has a bad habit of rotting on the tree, but this year it is sound and good. Indeed all cherries are uncommonly free this season from rot and worm. Latest with us is Sparhawk’s Honey, a small white and red cherry, dark red when fully ripe. It is a good canning cherry, but for cooking purposes we must not overlook the Early Richmond and Belle Magnifique. We have had a row of dwarf cherries growing for three years, but are a little disappointed in them. They have not borne yet, while a standard Gov. Wood set at the same time bore a small dishfull this year. Too rapid a growth, no doubt, increased by the practice of heading back closely in the spring. It is a good time now, while you are scratching your hands and tearing your clothes in an unpruned cherry-tree, to get out your saw and cut away all crooked and useless branches.

Mr. Warner, who spent one “Summer in a Garden,” and had such a hard time of it with the weeds that he has not, to my knowledge, ever tried it again, used to wish for a canopy over his head while hoeing and a person of foreign birth waiting at the end of the rows with a cooling drink. What was a tantalizing fancy to him is a refreshing fact to me just at present. But my Asiatic is a fine old cherry-tree standing on the edge of the garden. The rows are short, and as I come under the long branches of the tree which shut out the sweltering July sun I hook my hoe upon a loaded limb and draw it down within hand-reach. Unlike strawberries, the last pickings of cherries are the best, and this year most uncommonly good. When my hoeing is done I feel entitled to go up in the tree and roost among the branches. The cherry-tree lifts up its first ripe fruits toward heaven, and winged priests take charge of the offering, but afterwards the more shaded fruit ripens up. It was a belief of my boyhood, and it is unshaken still, that in planning the cherry-tree the good Father had the comfort of boys very largely in mind. Else why that symmetrical arrangement of boughs, low spreading from the ground, within easy stepping distance of each other and free from suckers and tangled growth? Then far up toward the top there is sure to be an interlacing of branches that forms a royal resting-place and bower of bliss for the young climber. And once a year the young monarch of the tree may lie at his ease and fill himself with ripe, ruddy fruit. I am thinking as I write of the old cherry-tree in grandmother’s garden in Hartford, Ct. The happiest hours of boyhood were spent high up in its branches, reading Charles Dickens. There in the drowsy August afternoons, with the wind softly rocking the boughs, I lived a glad, strange life with the queer and funny folk the great romancer carried me among. Robins came and peered curiously at me, rude boys in the side street “hi-hi”-ed and sometimes launched a stone at the motionless object in the tree, but all were unheeded. I was far away with little Nell on the country road, or watching the wild waves with Paul Dombey, or trembling with Smike in Dotheboys Hall. I have only to open the volumes to-day and see again the swaying boughs of the old cherry-tree, and I recall the joy of the days that are forever gone.

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