Peter Dougherty, a Presbyterian missionary and the first European settler in the Traverse City area, also became the first cherry grower when he planted a cherry orchard on Old Mission Peninsula in 1852. Perhaps he planted it as an agricultural experiment or maybe he did it to help satisfy his own sweet tooth. Then, quite unexpectedly, the cherry trees grew. Native Americans and American settlers alike were amazed that the trees had thrived on the peninsula. For the cherry trees, as it turned out, the sandy soil as well as nearby Lake Michigan tempering the Arctic wind in winter and cooling the hot air of summer provided an excellent growing environment.
Today with 3.8 million tart cherry trees, Michigan produces 70 to 75 percent of the tart cherries grown in the United States. In 1998, a particularly good year, that figure was 76 percent and meant that 228.5 million pounds of the total U.S. 302 million pounds went to processors. Leelanau County, in fact all the counties in the Traverse City area, grew most of these. These tarts, mostly of the Montmorency variety, were grown for pies, preserves, jellies, juice, dried fruit and other products; seldom for eating fresh.
Most of Michigan's sweet cherry production is also concentrated in the Traverse City area. Many of the golden sweet varieties are made into maraschino cherries. But in July and early August, the countryside around Traverse City is dotted with stands, markets and u-pick signs offering cartons of sweet, dark cherries. And sometimes the cherries soak in the ice cold water to keep them fresh.
Appreciation of the cherry has a long history. In 1924, the Traverse City area held a spring ceremony known as the "Blessing of the Blossoms" to celebrate the cherry and the region's affinity for it. The event eventually became the National Cherry Festival held in Traverse City each July.
Buy or pick cherries. This delicious fruit is useful. The cherry has anti-inflammatory properties (inhibiting enzymes that cause joint pain) and two antioxidant compounds (kaempferol and quercetin) that improve memory vision and concentration. Generally antioxidants are recognized as good agents because they help prevent cancer and the development of cardiovascular disease.
Restaurants in Traverse City find dozens of ways to use cherries. The dried cherry in particular has achieved tremendous popularity in salads, baked goods, and pork and chicken dishes. For beef lovers watching their weight, a Leelanau County butcher has used them to create a low-fat hamburger/cherry mix that's popular in restaurants and cafés all over town. You will taste cherries at gourmet restaurants and small coffee shops and breakfast and lunch spots. You can begin to accumulate your own list of your favorite uses for dried and frozen cherries. It may be long -- ranging from low-fat hamburger and sausage meat to special salads, nut mixes and baked goods.