What do these things have in common?
OSU is known as “the birthplace of the modern maraschino cherry industry” and Ernest H. Wiegand was the man with the plan. Before learning more about Wiegand’s work, let’s take a step back and dispel some myths about this tasty candy treat.
First off, it wasn’t actually invented here… The garnish originated in Europe and demand was fueled by Americans who had developed a taste for them in cocktails.
By the early 1900s, maraschinos were all the rage in the United States, largely bobbing around in cocktails like the Manhattan. A New York Times story from Jan. 2, 1910, captured the nation’s maraschino-cherry mania: “A young woman engaged a room at a fashionable hotel and, after ordering a Manhattan cocktail, immediately sent for another. Soon she was ordering them by the dozen. The management interfered and someone was sent to expostulate with her; also to find out how she had been able to consume so many cocktails. She was found surrounded by the full glasses with the cherry gone.” (The fruit that made Oregon famous, Verzemnieks, 2007)
However, it is not a myth that production of this bright red favorite was actually perfected just down the street from where I sit typing.
Another myth is the link between Wiegand’s work and prohibition. While there is a maraschino liqueur made from the marasca cherry and Americans clearly loved to drink, Wiegand wasn’t driven by the limits of prohibition in his work; instead, he set out to develop a method of manufacturing maraschino cherries using a brine solution rather than alcohol.
When Wiegand began his research, sodium metabisulfite was being used to preserve maraschino cherries. Some accounts indicate that this preservation method was being used long before Prohibition. Some manufacturers used maraschino or imitation liqueurs to flavor the cherries, but newspaper stories from the early part of the century suggest that many manufacturers stopped using alcohol and artificial dyes before Prohibition (Wikipedia, “Maraschino cherry”).
In any case, even for those Americans who were not looking to add the candies to their cocktails, we do know that cherry consumption in the U.S. was way up; but most were manufactured on the East Coast or imported from the other side of the ocean.
Inara Verzemnieks says in a rollicking blog post from 2006 that everything changed “the day a tall, kindly man sporting a pencil-thin mustache arrived at Oregon State University, and that’s when everything changed.”
When he arrived in Corvallis in 1919 he set out to help cherry growers solve a spoilage problem — the Queen Anne variety, which thrive here, spoiled and became mush when preserved. So from 1925 to 1931, Wiegand looked at ways to develop a new preservation process.
His final solution, which included adding calcium salts to the brine that the cherries soaked in, was revolutionary and is still the standard used in maraschino production today (Oregon Encyclopedia, “Maraschino Cherries”).
So… why bring this up today when real cherry blossoms are beginning to pop all over Corvallis? A few weeks ago Collections Archivist Karl McCreary got a fabulous new addition to our SCARC collections — a Maraschino Cherry Kit, replete with instructions and ingredients for making one gallon of Maraschino Cherries! The kit will become part of RG252, the Extension Family & Community Health collection.
- Want to make your own? The kit contents are Calcium Chloride, Citric Acid, Sodium Meta Bisulfite, Maraschino Flavor, and (of course) Artificial Color. Yes, there are instructions!
- Want to see some pretty pictures? Check out the Flickr set!