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By Kirsten Amann
Happy Independence Day, y’all! I love to raise a glass on our nation’s birthday, but in New England, aren’t we also raising a glass to summer itself on the 4th of July? We have precious few months when fresh fruit is abundantly in season, along with sunshine and longer days. If that’s not worth celebrating, what is?

Cherry season is particularly short here, typically lasting just 3 weeks from the last week of June into the first two of July, meaning it’s in full swing right now! The brevity of the season makes this a great time to borrow a page from the early American colonists’ playbook and extract/preserve as much flavor from these delicious little fruits while you still can. There are many ways to reap the rewards of cherry season in your cocktails, from syrups to shrubs to brandied cocktail cherries. Since this month also marks the birthday of our great nation, I suggest trying your hand at one of George Washington’s favorite recipes for Cherry Bounce.

PARTY LIKE GEORGE & MARTHA WASHINGTON So what is Cherry Bounce, and where did it get such a fun name? The drink is a simple liqueur made of spirits, cherries, and sugar that dates back to 17th century England. Early recipes used brandy for the spirit and Morello cherries for their sour, aromatic qualities, but today recipes and variations abound. As for the cool name Cherry Bounce, like so many things in the annals of drink history, this has murky origins. Fristhden, an English hamlet, lays claim to originating the drink, linking its name to an old street in the area called Cherry Bounce; other sources say the drink predates this eponymous road by about a century. There was a House of Lords member nicknamed “Cherrybounce” circa 1670, one can easily imagine that name being earned for his proclivity towards the tipple. “Bounce” was slang for “a sharp blow” back in those days, so perhaps Cherry Bounce falls into the category of drinks named for the potent punch they pack, like how we refer to shots today, or if you’re on TikTok, the Gen Z’s favorite BORGs.

Cherry Bounce in the United States is often traced back to none other than George and Martha’s Washington, whose recipe spread wide and popularized it here. In addition to his military and political prowess, ol’ George was known to “hold an enlightened, modern attitude toward the consumption of alcohol,” according to the Mount Vernon website. He was known to enjoy a wide variety of beverages, including Madeira, Port, rum punch, porter, and whiskey. Robert Laird of the distillery known today as Laird & Co. was a Revolutionary soldier who served under Washington and supplied the troops with his family’s applejack during the war. Years later, George Washington would make his own foray into commercial distilling, persuaded by his Scottish farm manager, James Anderson. His Mount Vernon Distillery would eventually house five stills holding a total capacity of 616 gallons, making it one of the largest distilleries in the nation at that time. The most common output was rye whiskey, produced under the supervision of James Anderson’s son, John, along with six enslaved African Americans: Hanson, Peter, Nat, Daniel, James, and Timothy. In 2007 the distillery was recreated and today it can be revisited; it even produces whiskey again.

Earlier this spring, centuries-old bottles containing still preserved cherries were unearthed during an excavation project at Mount Vernon, a discovery that can only be described as thrilling for the archaeologists working on the project. They located two intact, European-made green glass bottles in a pit in the Mount Vernon basement whilst excavating the mansion’s cellar as part of a revitalization project. The contents have yet to be confirmed, but the scientists working on the dig identified cherries, including stems and pits, preserved in the liquid inside and wafting an unmistakable scent of cherry blossoms. Whether this was a jar of cherry bounce or simply preserved cherries, best not to get too excited about the potability of the liquid inside as, according to Archaeology magazine, “Archaeologist Jason Boroughs said that much of the liquid in the bottles may be groundwater that entered the vessels after their corks had deteriorated.”

CHERRY BOUNCE FOR THE 21ST CENTURY Since it’s the 4th of July this month and it’s cherry season, why not get into the spirit and try Martha’s recipe to make your own Cherry Bounce? If you’re yearning for a more immediately available cherry cocktail flavoring, best to set aside some fresh cherries to make a syrup or shrub, as the concoction needs time to marinate and extract all that delicious flavor from the summer fruit. On the bright side, if you get started now, you’ll have something very delightful to share with loved ones during the holiday season: we’ll call it Christmas in July.

Your local farmer’s market or Whole Foods is a fine place to start, but why not make this a summertime excursion by picking your own cherries? Tougas Family Farm is located just 45 minutes west of Boston in Northborough, MA and is a go-to destination for “pick-your-own fruit”, named among the Top Ten Orchards to Visit by USA Today. The property has been family-owned and operated by Maurice and Phyllis Tougas since 1981, and today they are the largest pick-your-own cherry orchard in New England. They cultivate a wide variety of cherries, including Balaton Cherries, which they describe as an excellent alternative to the Morello cherries used in early recipes made by Martha Washington and her contemporaries.

Makes about 3 quarts
A modern adaptation of Martha Washington’s recipe from the Mount Vernon website

10 to 11 pounds fresh sour cherries, preferably Morello,
or 3 (1-pound, 9-ounce) jars preserved Morello cherries
4 cups brandy
3 cups sugar, plus more as needed
2 cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces
2 to 3 whole cloves
1 (1/4-inch) piece fresh whole nutmeg

PIT the cherries, CUT them in half, and put them in a large bowl. Using a potato masher, carefully MASH the fruit to extract as much juice as possible. STRAIN the juice through a large fine-mesh strainer, PRESSING the fruit with a sturdy spoon. You should have about 8 cups. RESERVE the mashed cherries in the freezer or refrigerator for later use. If using jarred cherries, DRAIN the fruit and SET the juice aside before halving and mashing the cherries. ADD any pressed juice to the reserved juice.

In a lidded 1-gallon glass jar, COMBINE the juice with the brandy and sugar, STIRRING to dissolve the sugar. COVER with the lid, and SET aside in the refrigerator for 24 hours, occasionally STIRRING or carefully shaking the jar.

Bring 2 cups of the juice to a SIMMER over medium heat. TASTE the sweetened juice and ADD more sugar, if desired. STIR in the cinnamon sticks, cloves, and nutmeg, then COVER and SIMMER for about 5 minutes. REMOVE from the heat and SET aside to cool at room temperature. STRAIN and DISCARD the spices.

STIR the spiced juice back into the 1-gallon glass jar with the reserved sweetened juice. COVER loosely with the lid and SET aside for at least 2 weeks before serving, occasionally shaking the jar with care.

SERVE at room temperature in small cordial or wine glasses. STORE the remaining in the refrigerator.