Yesterday was President’s Day, originally instituted to celebrate our first president George Washington. By now we all know that George Washington did not chop down the cherry tree. But we do know that he liked cherries because his favorite boozy drink was something called Cherry Bounce. The recipe was found in Martha Washington’s papers and Georgie wrote in his diary that he carried a large supply of it with him on a trek out over the Alleghanies in 1784.
Like our first President, I am a fan of anything cherry. This weekend I tasted my first cherry thing-a-ling from Schmidt Bakery in Batesville. It’s a ‘bite sized’ cherry fritter. I also like a good cherry infused black forest cake. I am a fan of anything flavored with kirsch, the German cherry liqueur. I enjoy a good bourbon infused cherry from Bourbon Barrel Foods in Lexington as a topper to ice cream. As a teenager, we used to go up to the Traverse City Cherry Festival, which had everything cherry. And, although I haven’t had one in years, there’s nothing better than a good Hostess cherry hand pie. One of my grandmother’s specialties was a sour cherry pie she made from sour cherries grown in their backyard.
Although it sounds more like a 50s dance craze, Cherry Bounce was a sour cherry and sugar infused brandy drink with spices that was super popular in Colonial America – sort of like our pre-Revolutionary Cosmo. George and Martha apparently made their own and served it to guests at Mount Vernon. Their version contained nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves.
Cherry Bounce was also very popular here in Cincinnati from before the Civil War to about the 1870s. And most of our local Catawba winemakers made it from their Catawba Brandy and local sour cherries. A Southern German variety of sour cherries called Weischel, was recommend by Carl Reemelin, a West Side winemaker in his 1868 book, “Winemaking.” In Southern Germany and Austria they even mix this sour cherry with hard cider, which sounds delicious, and in Bavaria they mix Cherry Brandy with wheat beer.
Another fruity liqueur mixed drink that is popular in Germany, but imported from France is kir, which is blackcurrent liqueur mixed with a still white acidic wine like a German Hockenheimer. The Germans of Cincinnati would have been able to use still Catawba hock wine to make a kir.
Brandy was a byproduct of winemaking, because it used the second pressing and the skins and stems not used in winemaking. So, using it in a popular drink made a great side business to the local wine industry. Many of the local winemakers in Cincinnati made it – George Bogen, the Longworth Wine House, and others. It would have been served at the local German coffeehouses, which were really wine bars, like William Tell’s owned by one time vintner and Swiss Immigrant via Vevay, Indiana, Friedrick Deserens.
Longworth grew cherry trees on his Tusculum vineyards and they must have been good. One contract Longworth made with a German immigrant vinedresser said that he could have all of the cherries from the cherry trees below the press house, west of the part of his vineyard where he grew Elsinboro grapes. I wonder if the tenant made Cherry Bounce or Cherry Wine.