- What’s On
Shining crimson globes bursting with tongue-tingling juices… Cherries, the trophy brought back to the West by Lucullus, are truly fit for a feast. Berrin Torolsan’s recipes capture the sweet taste of summer
The wealthy Roman general and gourmet Lucullus was dining alone one evening, so his chef, assuming that his master would like some respite from gorging, prepared a light meal. Lucullus was astounded. ‘Why,’ he asked. ‘Because we do not have guests tonight,’ replied the chef. ‘How dare you,’ said Lucullus. ‘Are you not aware that we have an important guest tonight? His name is Lucius Lucullus.’ Since the 17th century, the adjective ‘Lucullian’ has been used to evoke the extravagance of a banquet.
Lucullus is also credited with carrying cherries back to Tome from the Black Sea port of Karasunt (modern Giresun) after defeating the Pontic king Mithradates around 70BC. That cherries already existed in the wild in Europe long before this time is evident from the cherry stones found in prehistoric lake dwellings in Switzerland. Their ancient habitat stretched from the Caspian Sea along the Black Sea to western Anatolia, but after the Ice Age, the sweet cherry (Prunus avium – bird cherry) spread west and became naturalised in central Europe. The sour cherry (Prunus cerasus) went no further than the Balkans.
All the many different varieties of cultivated cherry derive from these two species of the rose family. Although they differ little in character, both the Turkish names – kiraz for sweet cherry and vişne from sour cherry – have Pontic origins, suggesting that the two species were clearly distinguished and probably in cultivation before the rise of Hellenism. The town of Giresun was surrounded by cherry forests, hence its pre-Hellenistic name, Kersanda, meaning ‘place of plentiful cherries’.
What Lucullus took home with him after the Pontic campaign were either cherry trees of a better and sweeter variety, or aromatic sour cherries cultivated in the Pontus and perhaps unknown to the West. Lucullus’s precious booty, probably consisting of hundreds of trees and countless cuttings, was to be of far-reaching economic importance. Even Pliny later mentions only the cherries, not the victory.
There is no tree more beautiful than a cherry in flower – except perhaps a cherry tree laden with fruit…
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