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  • Meirion Harries

DAY TWENTY TWO Spitting Cherries


My favourite of Victor Borge's stories is of the man who invented 1-Up. He quite liked it, but saw improvements and developed 2-Up and so on all the way through to the almost perfect 6-Up. Then he died without knowing how close he came. Much the same story circles around Witzenhausen, the medieval town to the south of Gottingen, which I am just approaching. Our Joseph Priestley, born near Batley in Yorkshire in 1733, was one of those remarkable eighteenth century men who discovered things. He can lay claim to having discovered oxygen (disputed by the French) but is certain to have invented the process for carbonating water. That was his 6-Up moment and, though he lived on, he was not able to exploit his invention. Priestley, who was one of the founders of Unitarianism in England, was a megaphone for religious toleration. His activism came at the wrong time – with revolution sweeping France, public suspicion was aroused and he had to take ship for America after a mob burned down his house on the night he and his friends were to have a dinner to celebrate the storming of the Bastille. The man who took his discovery, and with it created the mixer that we all depend on in the early evening, was born in Witzenhausen in 1740. Johann Jacob Schweppe, who spent most of his life as a watchmaker in Geneva, saw how to scale up Priestley's invention to a manufacturing process that to this day turns out our tonic water. Success was not immediate – but then, in 1831, our William IV took a liking to carbonated water and the Schweppes brand prospered. With the spread of Empire into the tropics, gin was used to mask the taste of the anti-malarial quinine that Johann Schweppe had identified as an essential ingredient in carbonated water. The gin and tonic was born. In Penang, where I was brought up, the colonials drank gin pahit – sour gin – made of equal parts gin and Angostura bitters. Incidentally, the bitters are not named after the plant, but after the town in Venezuela where they were first made. Angostura stands on the Orinoco River at a point where it narrows – angostura being Spanish for narrows.

the half-timbered houses of Witzenhausen (c)wikicommons

But my sights are not set on a gin and tonic. I am pedalling to Witzenhausen to attempt the world record for spitting a cherry stone. The town is at the heart of Germany's cherry growing region – beautiful now as the blossom surrounds us. The Race Marshal disappeared hours ago deep into the petalled expanses. It's a pity, though, that we are not here in July for the Kesperkirmes, the annual cherry fair (Kesper not Kirsche is what cherries are called locally). The Race Marshal could have pitched to be the Kirschenkönigin while I spat cherry stones. Mind you, last year the competition was annulled. A reporter for the Canberra Times witnessed the disaster: ''After the competition we found manipulated cherry stones on the spitting range,'' reveals Ulrich Walger, head honcho from the Witzenhausen organising committee. It turns out an ingenious competitor had slit open the pip, inserted metal shots, covered it with a filler before varnishing it - all in an attempt to get further distance”.


This never happens at the World Championships – held, of course, in America - at the Tree-Mendus Fruit Farm in Eau Claire, Michigan. They did, however, experience seismic shock last year: the 54 feet and 3 inch flight of Kevin Bartz's cherry stone took the title from Rick “Pellet Gun” Krause, the eighteen-time champion. The Krause family does, however, still hold the world record – the amazing 93 feet 6 inch blast by Brian "Young Gun" Krause in 2004.

The eighteen-time Champion, Rick "Pellet Gun" Krause (c)Wall Street Journal

Should you feel so inclined, Witzenhausen offers a carefully marked spitting lane for you to try your prowess. Looking down it, as I ruminated on a cherry, I was reminded of the pavement in Nantymoel where they marked out Lynn the Leap's golden Olympic jump of 28 feet 6 inches. I can tell you that Lynn can jump further than I can spit a cherry stone.

cold sour cherry soup(c)saveur.com

Cherries will be on the menu tonight. Germans have taken to the sour cherry soup from Hungary – cherries, lemon, cinnamon, salt and sour cream – which will be washed down with a glass of the exceptionally good unfiltered organic beer brewed here at Schinkels. A pleasant meal to prepare for a less pleasant venture tomorrow into the post-1945 British Zone of Occupation. For solace, I may take with me Witzenhausen's other speciality – chewing tobacco: the town has Germany’s only chewing tobacco factory - where the Kautabakspinner, the chewing tobacco spinners, work at machines from the 19th century.

This is how to spit a cherry stone. The person in the first few frames is the master, Rick “Pellet Gun” Krause himself - https://youtu.be/ZrfOppxKTwc This is an easy recipe for cold sour cherry soup - https://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes/Hungarian-Chilled-Cherry-Soup/ And, as a treat, here is Victor Borge using Phonetic Punctuation - https://youtu.be/eixevXANKAo

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