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Maraschino cherry demystified

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July 3, Monday — Dog days begin. "Metamorphosis" author Franz Kafka born, 1883.

July 4, Tuesday — Independence Day. Translation of St. Martin of Tours.

July 5, Wednesday — P.T. Barnum born, 1810. Arthur Ashe defeated Jimmy Connors, 1975.

July 6, Thursday — Two captains will sink the ship. Hailstorm, Potter, Neb., 1928.

July 7, Friday — Moon on Equator. Baseball Hall of Famer, Leroy R. "Satchel" Paige born, 1906.

July 8, Saturday — First Quarter Moon. Nelson A. Rockefeller born, 1908.

July 9, Sunday — 14th Amendment ratified, 1868. Corncob pipe patented, 1878.

Ask The Old Farmer's Almanac: What exactly is a maraschino cherry? — M.F., Lewistown, Mont.

Answer: It's that red thing that no respectable hot fudge sundae should be without, of course. In its purest (and rarest) form, this cherry is the marasca cherry, from the Trieste region of Italy. Its pit is crushed and its juice fermented to make an alcohol-based, bittersweet cordial. The cherries are then soaked in this liquor to make the original maraschino cherry.

But the cherry we know and love for the top of ice-cream sundaes and the like is almost never of this pure form. Commercial brands of maraschino cherries are, unfortunately, mostly made from sugar (or corn syrup) and red dye. Sometimes an almond or mint flavoring is added to the liquid. The good news is that the federal government has recently outlawed some of the more harmful red dyes that were being used, but the cherries are still being dyed, sometimes red, or the less popular green.

The cherries used commercially may be any edible red cherry. Royal Ann is probably the most common one used today.

It would be an easy thing to make your own version of a maraschino cherry, by mascerating freshly picked and washed pitted cherries in a liquor of your choice. Non-alcoholic versions might be made with an almond-flavored clear syrup, perhaps "reddened" with cranberry or grape juice, and fresh, pitted cherries. The non-alcoholic versions wouldn't have as long a shelf life, of course, and all versions should be refrigerated.

Ask The Old Farmer's Almanac: Do sinus headaches come with hay fever? I think I've got both. Any remedies? —b H. J. Bristol, R.I.

Answer: Hay fever can bring on a sinus headache, or sinusitis, as can any cold or respiratory ailment. Even dental infections sometimes lead to sinus problems. Sinusitis is essentially the inflammation and often, the infection of, the air-filled cavities that surround the nasal passages. These cavities fill with mucus and then various bacterial infections can occur — including pneumococcus, streptococcus, or staphylococcus. We can tell you some of the favorite home remedies, but if the condition persists or worsens, you should definitely check with your regular health practitioner.

A favorite remedy that we've tried and liked for its effectiveness has to do with pressure points over the eyes. Often, a sinus headache localizes around just one eye. There's a little pea-sized dip in the bone just under the top of your eyebrow, often located just above the iris of that eye. (There's one on each side, but only use both if both sides are inflamed.) You have to gently nudge your eyebrow out of the way with your finger, then feel along the bone for the dip. Press your thumb or fingertip on this dip firmly. It hurts a little, but after a minute or so you are apt to feel the sinus draining down the back of your throat. The pressure is a little uncomfortable, but the draining relieves some of the mucus build-up and the headache diminishes. In a couple of hours, you might need to repeat the process.

The next best remedy is the hot washcloth, used as a compress. Some sinus sufferers swear by using the microwave to keep one compress hot while you use another, but it would be easy to burn yourself this way. Some Chinese herbalists recommend Tiger Balm, an ointment that comes in a red tin with a tiger on it. It's an aromatic of menthol from peppermint, eugenol from cloves, and cinnamon and camphor.

Teas recommended (or inhalations of their steam) include fenugreek (a teaspoon of the seeds in a cup of boiling water), stinging nettle (Urtica dioica, using the root to make tea), and ginkgo biloba. Try the mints, too. Anne McIntyre, author of "The Complete Woman's Herbal," (Henry Holt Co., 1994), suggests catmint (catnip) tea.

Garlic, in the diet or in capsules, add its antibiotic activities, as do onions, though less so. Oregano also has antiseptic compounds. Some people make it into a tea. Echinacea boosts the immunity, as does goldenseal, helping to ease the infection. Horseradish helps clear the sinuses. Pineapple juice has something called bromelain in it, considered helpful.

All the same remedies apply to hay fever, in general, as it is also a respiratory ailment. The only other thing is to avoid the particular pollens affecting you, but that can be hard. Some people say chewing the wax from honeycomb is helpful.

Ask The Old Farmer's Almanac: What is meant by a "sea turn" as it relates to wind? — M.B., Manset, Maine

Answer: In New England, a sea turn is an easterly sea breeze that comes on cool, from the offshore waters. As a weather prognosticator, it frequently indicates low clouds and fog, or in some cases, a mild rain. Spring and early summer are the times for sea turns, although they can occur at other times as well. A sea turn is just one version of a sea breeze (as distinguished from a land breeze, with its milder effects).

Send your questions to: Ask the Almanac, The Old Farmer's Almanac, Main St., Dublin, NH 03444. Web site: www.almanac.com © Yankee Publishing Inc.