Whenever someone asks what inspired the name Wild Cherry Spoon Co., co-owner and chief artisan Tim McGuire replies that cherry wood is his favorite material to carve. This inspired me to do a little research on what makes the wild cherry tree (Prunus serotina) special. Read on to learn about this abundant resource, from its historic use as imitation mahogany, to its possible medicinal properties--and to see some of my favorite images of our cherry wood products!
Prunus serotina goes by many common names, including black cherry, wild cherry, and whiskey cherry. According to Wood Magazine, the species was prevalent when European settlers first arrived in North America. It’s still widespread, thanks to distribution of its fruit seeds by birds. The species grows from the Dakotas to the east coast, as far north as Novia Scotia, and all the way down to north Florida. Although the Appalachian region of Pennsylvania and West Virginia boasts the country’s largest stands of black cherry trees, we source ours as urban lumber from the Quad Cities area.
Tim isn’t the first woodworker to appreciate cherry’s qualities. During the Colonial era, furniture makers noticed that cherry wood turns dark reddish brown after exposure to sun. This led to the nickname “New England Mahogany,” and to use of the wood side-by-side with real mahogany. Strong and heavy cherry resists damage and abuse, making it ideal for everything from musical instruments to plywood cabinetry. Tim loves cherry for its smooth grain and because it's easy to work with, but admits that what he really loves is its smell; fresh-cut, he swears the wood smells sweet and fruity, like a cherry dessert.
Cherry wood may smell sweet, but wild cherries tend to be much more bitter than their cultivated cousins at your local market. But that doesn’t mean you can’t eat them! Their tartness makes for great jams and wines, and for a boozy drink called cherry bounce. A favorite drink of George Washington’s, the popular 18th-century fruit cordial is what you get when you let cherries soak in brandy and sugar for several weeks. Perhaps Washington’s love for the libation helped inspire the ubiquitous chopping-down-the-cherry-tree myth. You can find an update of the Washington family’s cherry bounce recipe here.
I also found through my research that wild cherry bark has been used to treat coughs and bronchitis for centuries, beginning as a Native American herbal remedy. You can purchase powdered wild cherry bark, to steep in tea, at health food stores. As with most medicines, it’s best to consult a doctor first; the tea is not safe for pregnant women, and the very substance that makes cherry bark work as a cough suppressant can be toxic in large quantities or over a long period of time. Don’t worry, though—Wild Cherry Spoon Co.’s products don’t utilize cherry bark, so they are always food safe!Sources: Wood Magazine