The Bing cherry, the most popular sweet cherry in the United States, is in season until August. This cherry variety is especially good in desserts like pie because of its intensely sweet flavor and gorgeous coloring. How did this particular fruit come into being? We can thank a Chinese immigrant.
Chinese laborers come to the Pacific Northwest
In the 1850’s, a series of disasters hit the southwest part of China. Famine, politics, and war drove hundreds of thousands of men to the US in search of work. A huge population moved to California where they worked in gold mines and then on the new railroads. When gold fever subsided and the railroad was complete, the immigrants began new projects like opening restaurants and laundries. By 1880, the Chinese made up 5% of Oregon’s population. One of the larger plant nurseries in the state, owned by Seth Lewelling, hired 30 Chinese men. One of these workers, Ah Bing, would create the Bing cherry.
What we know about Bing
Most of what we know about Ah Bing comes from Florence Olson Ledding, Seth Lewelling’s step-daughter. According to her writings, Bing worked on the railroads and as a cook before moving to Oregon. He stood over 6-feet tall and was most likely Manchurian, as opposed to Cantonese like most of the nursery laborers. He and Lewelling managed the nursery’s fruit test area and according to Ledding, the sweet cherry grew in Bing’s row, so it was named after him.
The US oppresses Chinese immigrants
In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act passed. It limited the immigration of the Chinese and represents a frightening shift against the group who built America’s railroads. Attacks began, including the 1885 murder of 34 Chinese workers in Oregon’s Hells Canyon. In 1892, the Geary Act not only renewed the immigration ban, but forced Chinese people to carry papers that proved they were in the country legally.
Ah Bing went back to China during this time and never returned. He might have gone to visit the wife he talked about and been refused re-entry, or he might have moved back. Despite living in Oregon for 35 years, he would not have felt safe beyond the borders of his boss’ nursery. It took decades until people began digging deeper into the origins of the Bing cherry and discovered his story. You can now find Bing cherries growing all over the Pacific Northwest.
Best uses for Bing cherries
We already mentioned that Bing cherries are excellent in sweet applications. They are also a great source of vitamins C, A, calcium, iron, and potassium. They get their beautiful red color from anthocyanin, an antioxidant that’s good for your heart and has anti-inflammatory properties. Because Bing cherries are so sweet, they can be eaten on their own and used in recipes with very little sugar added. I’ve made this “nice” cream recipe several times and my husband, who is an ice cream aficionado, can’t even tell that it’s vegan.
Chocolate-Cherry Nice Cream
4 frozen bananas
¼ cup vanilla almond milk
1 cup fresh Bing cherries w/ pits removed
2-ounces chopped dark chocolate
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Put bananas, cherries, almond milk, and vanilla extract into a good food
processor or blender. Blend until you get a creamy, thick texture. Fold in the
chocolate. Line a bread pan or baking dish with parchment paper, and transfer
the nice cream into it. If you want a harder texture, freeze for 30 minutes before
The Meyer lemon, the sweetest lemon variety, was also named after its creator: Frank Meyer.