We know that General George Washington himself was a fan of Cherry Bounce. In the years after the American Revolution and before taking on the presidency, the general embarked upon a journey looking for a westward commercial waterway. General Washington hoped to find, “a largely navigable route from the Atlantic to the Mississippi Valley through the riverbeds of the Potomac and the Ohio,” as Joel Achenbach states in his book about the venture, The Grand Idea.
General Washington began his adventure the morning of Sept. 1, 1784, well-prepared. He took with him a couple of casks of rum for trading. According to General Washington’s journal of the trip, with his own table in mind, he had also loaded up his “equipage Trunk and the Canteens” with “Madeira and Port Wine” and “Cherry Bounce.”
Thanks to Martha Washington, we actually know what that Cherry Bounce tasted like. Mrs. Washington’s memorandum book included a recipe, written on General Washington’s stationery, with the heading “To Make Excellent Cherry Bounce.”
Martha Washington’s Cherry Bounce Recipe:
“Extract the Juice of 20 pounds of well ripend Morrella Cherrys Add to this 10 quarts of Old French brandy and sweeten it with White Sugar to your taste—To 5 Gallons of this mixture add one ounce of Spice Such as Cinnamon, Cloves and Nutmegs of each an Equal quantity Slightly bruis’d and a pint and half of Cherry kernels that have been gently broken in a mortar—After the liquor has fermented let it Stand Close-Stoped for a month or Six weeks—then bottle it remembering to put a lump of Loaf Sugar into each bottle.”
Cherry Bounce wasn’t just for General Washington's journeys. As the first first lady, Mrs. Washington served Cherry Bounce in the president’s house. Abigail Adams wrote to her sister about “Mrs. W’s publick day” party on New Year’s Day, 1790, and mentions that the two delicacies of the season were “a kind of cake in fashion upon this day call’d New Year’s Cooky. This & Cherry Bounce.” Both were customary treats of the holiday.
In Edith Wharton’s 1913 novel The Custom of the Country, a temperance preacher offers a another version of the legend of young Washington’s encounter with the cherry tree, “in which the infant patriot was depicted as having cut down the tree to check the deleterious spread of cherry bounce.”
Knowing any version of this legend to be nothing more than a tall tale, the cooks at Woodville made their own version of Martha Washington’s Cherry Bounce recipe:
Take one 2lb bag of cherries (frozen or fresh pitted) and mix with one cup of water in a saucepan. Reduce the mixture over medium heat to release the flavor for about 15 minutes. Do not boil. Put the cherry mixture into a 2 quart sealable mason jar. Add 1 bottle of French brandy, rye whiskey, or bourbon. Allow to ferment in sealed container for 3 weeks to 6 months. Strain and decant into a bottle.
A bottle of Cherry Bounce was made with rye whiskey and another bottle was made with brandy. The Cherry Bounce made with brandy was the overwhelming favorite. The leftover cherries strained from the liquid are also quite tasty and go well with dessert.