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Cherry blossom season is on its way, and with it comes a barrage of terrible tasting cherry cocktails and dishes.
Now through the coming weeks, D.C.-area menus will be filled with cherry margaritas, cherry soda, cherry punch, cherry sangria, cherry-filled doughnuts, cherry waffles, cherry chocolates, cherry macarons, duck with cherries, salmon with cherries, pulled pork with cherry mustard, and gnocchi with pickled sour cherries.
And that’s just a small sampling. Most of these menu items have cherries for the sake of cherries, not because they taste better—or even good—with cherries.
Meanwhile, local blogs have already begun an onslaught of tedious round-ups featuring these cherry blossom food and drink specials. (That’s what happens when you have 5 million press releases in your inbox on the subject.) I have to imagine that this free promotion is the real incentive for nearly every single restaurant to have its own cherry creation, because there’s actually no good reason to put anything with cherries on their menus.
First and foremost, the cherry blossom trees that attract tourists to the Tidal Basin each spring do not typically produce fruit—and if they do, they’re not the kind of cherries that humans want to eat. The flowering flora is purely ornamental. Why does everyone ignore this obvious fact?
But the real irony of this gimmicky tradition is that in trying to show off their local cred (“We have a cherry blossom-themed menu! We’re so D.C.!”), these restaurants aren’t being local at all. The National Cherry Blossom Festival lasts from March 20 to April 12. Local cherry season doesn’t even begin until June. Even then, cherries grown in this area are finicky and in short supply.
“It’s not a reliable crop,” says farmer Emily Zaas of Maryland-based Black Rock Orchard, who sells cherries (among many other things) to local chefs and at D.C. farmers markets. “So when we have sour cherries, we could have a lot or we could have very few or we could have zero.” Last year was a bad year for local cherries. Cherry trees are among the first things to bloom in the spring, and if it gets cold after they bloom, farmers sometimes lose the fruit.
All of which is to say no dish served during the Cherry Blossom Festival actually contains local cherries—unless those cherries were preserved from last year. Chances are they weren’t.
So let’s quit this faux show of local pride. My suggestion? Skip the cherry gnocchi, and put a nice vase of cherry blossoms on your table.
Photo of a cherry cocktail from District Commons