The cold, hard, February fact is that young George never chopped down a cherry tree. The story was a folk tale crafted by a biographer in an effort to paint George as an honest fellow. One would think that crossing a river while maintaining an iconic hairstyle would have guaranteed George significant holiday recognition. But George would eventually have to share the spotlight with a whole gaggle of presidential folk. In 1971, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was created, lumping together George’s birthday and Abraham Lincoln’s birthday and all of the other POTUS peeps. Poor George; you start out with your very own holiday and before you know it, it’s all about selling cars and mattresses and a 3-day weekend in February. Take heart, Mr. Washington; as a nod to the cherry tree you didn’t chop down, there will be plenty of mediocre cherry pies flooding the supermarket aisles. Overly thickened, flagrant red cherries suspended between a soggy bottom and a meandering lattice could prompt its own holiday; Bad Cherry Pie Day. I wonder how Mrs. Washington, the original Martha, would have reacted to a Presidential holiday weekend. I suppose she would have headed to Costco to stock up on groceries, dropped the perishables home with George and continued on to the mall.
Michigan cherry growers tell me that a typical tart cherry tree boasts about 7,000 cherries per tree and an average cherry pie is filled with approximately 250 cherries. Oscar Wilde must have filled his shopping cart with a signature Kirkland Brand Costco cherry pie when he coined the phrase, “Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.” One Kirkland Brand Costco cherry pie weighs in at a whopping 72 ounces. Somewhere, someone is chopping down cherry trees.
It has also been brought to my attention that tart cherry pie filling is the number one pie filling sold in the United States. My response to this is the quintessential Blondilocks phrase, “We can do better.” Cherry pies and tarts, while clearly a labor of love, need not be relegated strictly to canned fillings. While many of us grew up happily devouring Comstock filled cherry pies, today make-your-own is more easily doable. Thanks to the wizardry behind individually quick frozen fruit, bags of cherries are no further than the freezer cases of your local supermarket, Trader Joes or God-help-me-any-day-of-the-week Costco. While you’re there, you might add an 8 oz. or 3 pound package of cream cheese to your cart. For some of us, cherries call out for a schmear of cheesecake, and possibly a good dose of chocolate.
I’m not alone in my February cheesecake hankering; just take a gander at ancient food history while you’re waiting for the stream of commercials to end and the Winter Olympic coverage to resume. It’s a little known fact that during the first Olympic games held in ancient Greece in 776 B.C., athletes were without access to CLIFF bars. Instead, they found energy in slices of cheesecake. The cheesecake was a combination of cheese, wheat flour, and honey, weighted down and baked beneath a brick. Also noteworthy is the fact that Greek brides and grooms often celebrated weddings with cheesecake.
As the shortest month of the year dwindles down, you are free to pick your poison. Whether you are a lover of cherry pie or chocolate, cheesecake or holiday sales, American history or athletics, all of these things are as intertwined as the Olympic rings. And if someone truly loves you, they will do the Costco run and leave you happily at home in your pajamas.