Written by Phin Upham
The cherry grew originally in the temperate climates of Europe and Asia. It’s likely that prehistoric peoples ate wild cherries plentifully, well before humans learned how to farm and settle down. There is even evidence that Neolithic peoples stored and fermented their cherry juice, creating wine before people knew how to extract it from grapes.
The cherry reached Italy from the Black Sea, where the Romans embraced it heartily. They took it with them to Britain when they conquered the area, grouping them with plums and grapes at the tables of rich imperials.
Cherries were grown and sold commercially throughout the Middle Ages, but their coldness was considered a medical hazard by medieval doctors. They recommended cooking the cherries, or serving them with wine to take the coldness away. They even enjoyed fruit preserves and the world’s first cherry pies. And cherries weren’t restricted to nobility either. It’s highly likely that peasants would supplement their diets with foods grown on their own property, the cherry among them.
The cherry tree is a symbol of beauty in Japan, but it also symbolizes virginity and pureness. In fact, Japanese people today still believe that a blossoming cherry tree has been inhabited by a kami spirit that helps it grow. The European myth makers believed that cherry trees were evil, but they also stressed a deep connection with both fortune and fertility, suggesting just a bit of malice was needed to get ahead in life.