I cannot tell a lie: I made cherry pudding

By TINKY WEISBLAT

For the Recorder

Published: 02-20-2023 7:22 PM

Presidents’ Day is a relatively new holiday. It was established in 1971.

February used to honor Lincoln and Washington separately on their birthdays. This omnibus holiday generously embraces all presidents, even the incompetent ones like James Buchanan and the downright dishonest ones like Richard Nixon. It was placed on the third Monday in February for a reason. That date is always close to the birthday of George Washington, our first president, on February 22.

Pedants might point out that he wasn’t actually born on February 22, 1732, but rather on February 11 as marked on the calendar in use then, the Julian calendar.

The Gregorian calendar was adopted in Britain and its colonies in 1752, and all dates were shifted 11 days to allow the calendar to catch up with the solar year.

Washington himself counted the 22nd as his birthday, however, and I find him an excellent source on this subject.

Some historians argue that Washington was our greatest president. I’m not sure whether I always agree with that assessment. Washington’s enslavement of African Americans tarnishes his reputation.

Over his lifetime he did, however, come to view the institution of slavery as “the only unavoidable subject of regret” he had for the American republic.

Moreover, he arranged to manumit the people he enslaved at his home, Mount Vernon, although they were to achieve their freedom only after his widow’s death. He freed only one person during his lifetime.

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There’s one way in which he absolutely stands out as a leader. Washington’s most celebrated and most impressive achievement as our first president was the grace with which he left the office.

His farewell address from 1796 counseled Americans to remain united against the dangers of partisanship and regionalism. It also argued on behalf of fiscal and international conservatism.

His address was and is a remarkable document. Each year a United States senator reads the address on or near his birthday to the Senate. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia has said, “There’s no other speech that gets that treatment. There’s no other person that gets that treatment.”

Its specialness comes not just from its content, although it is a beautifully crafted document, one the president composed with the help of James Madison and Alexander Hamilton. Its specialness comes from its originality.

Although Washington was exhausted and ready to retire after decades as a soldier and statesman, many of his supporters wanted him to remain in office, to become a quasi-king.

His relinquishment of the presidency underlined the difference between the United States and most of the other nations in the world. It set an example of the peaceful transfer of power that would endure.

My favorite number in the musical “Hamilton” is “One Last Time,” in which Washington drafts the farewell address with his loyal friend and aide, Alexander Hamilton. “(I)f we get this right,” Washington sings, “we’re gonna teach ‘em how to say goodbye.” He got it right, and he delivered that lesson to posterity.

It is traditional to make something with cherries to honor Washington’s birthday, and I’m not one to mess with tradition.

Most Americans now know that the story about his chopping down a cherry tree and confessing the deed to his father because he was incapable of lying was almost certainly made up by Washington’s enterprising biographer, Parson Weems.

Nevertheless, the legend is so strong that Americans still associate Washington with cherries. The gift shop at Mount Vernon even sells souvenirs with cherry themes.

The cherry tree tale is appealing and apt in its way. Washington was known for his honesty and indeed maintained that “the character of an honest man” was “the most envied of all titles.”

The cherry tree story can thus be viewed as a metaphor for George Washington’s overall character. In an era when our politicians aren’t always strictly truthful, his forthrightness is refreshing.

Besides, I like cherries!

Cherry Pudding

This recipe is adapted from one entered in Hawley’s Pudding Hollow Pudding Contest by the late Jane Montgomery of Newton. It is one of those lovely, comforting pudding cakes that is easy to throw together and satisfying to eat.

It uses canned cherries because even in Washington’s home state of Virginia one can’t get fresh local cherries in February.

Ingredients:

1 can (14.5 ounces) tart cherries (NOT cherry pie filling)

the juice of 1/2 lemon

1/2 cup sugar

4 tablespoons sweet butter at room temperature

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract

3/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed

whipped cream as needed

toasted almonds or pecans (or even candied ones) as needed (optional)

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Drain the cherries, reserving their liquid.

Combine the drained cherries and the lemon juice, and spread this mixture into a well buttered, 8-inch-square pan or a 1-quart casserole dish.

Cream the sugar with the butter. Sift together the flour, the baking powder, the salt, and the cinnamon, and add them to the butter mixture, alternating with the milk; be sure to begin and end with the flour mixture. Stir in the extract.

Use a spatula to spread the batter over the cherries as well as you can.

Sprinkle the brown sugar over all. Pour the cherry juice over the top of the batter.

Do not stir it in.

At this point your dish will look pretty messy, and you will begin to doubt yourself. Never fear: the magic of baking (or perhaps the inspiration of George Washington) will rescue your pudding. The cake batter will rise to the top and solidify, although there will be sauce at the bottom and the edges of the pan.

Bake the pudding until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean, 45 minutes to an hour. Be careful not to insert the toothpick too far down in the pan, or it will hit the sauce.

When the pudding is done, dish it onto serving plates, making sure each serving has cake, cherries and juice. Dollop a little whipped cream on the top, and put a few nuts on the cream if you like.

Serves 8.

Tinky Weisblat is an award-winning author and singer. Her most recent book is “Pot Luck: Random Acts of Cooking.” Visit her website, TinkyCooks.com.

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