Every summer for a brief period of time, cherries steal the spotlight at the market. Fresh jams, cobblers and cheesecakes inspired by the fruit line kitchen counters to be enjoyed through the season, only to disappear as that short window comes to a close. All of which is a shame because the burst and pucker of this fresh stone fruit should be enjoyed longer than its shelf life.
A longtime maraschino cherry fan, I wanted to develop a traditional recipe that could be easy replicated at home, and it’s a great way to preserve the sweetness and personality of this summer highlight.
Think maraschino cherries, and your mind probably conjures up the neon red cherries that, for decades, have been used to garnish cocktails and to top colorful sundaes and banana splits. Overly sweet, the chemically-treated product we know actually has a deliciously interesting past.
In the early 1900s, enterprising Italian orchardists found that they could preserve Marasca cherries in a spirit distilled from the fruit itself. Preserving not only the flesh, but stems, seeds, pits and even leaves of the fruit, the method gave the product a perfect sweet/tart balance with subtle bitter almond undertones. Inevitably, the preserved cherries found their way across the Atlantic and, until Prohibition, the traditional maraschino cherry was the standard. With the prohibition of alcohol, American farmers in Oregon developed a brining solution to produce non-alcoholic maraschino-like cherries. While these cherries appealed to many Americans’ sweet tooth, the practice stripped the cherries of their natural color and flavor. Unfortunately, these cherries are the “maraschino cherries” most of us know, even to this day.
Summer, fruit and alcohol are a match made in heaven. I wanted to preserve the flavors and memories of summer by creating a more traditional maraschino cherry recipe. During my research I came across many good recipes, but they all fell short for one reason or another. Most recipes rely on almond extract, fruit juice and/or food coloring, and many do not utilize the whole cherry. This recipe makes use of both the pits and stems. Simmering the pits in simple syrup brings out the pits’ subtle almond essence — a natural flavor compliment to stone fruit — and leaving the stems on the fruit gives the cherries their iconic look. While the recipe will work with a variety of cherries available in the markets now, I developed it with Bing cherries in mind as they have a long season and are so easy to find.
As your supply of cherries deplete, stir the sweet cherry liquor that remains into a Negroni cocktail. Traditional maraschino cherries are a treat to enjoy, and the bright red imitations we see everywhere are no comparison to the original. Making maraschino cherries at home is easy, and with minimal effort, you can use them to top your favorite sundaes or garnish a Friday night cocktail -- regardless of the season.
— Dylan Simmons
24 hours. Makes 2 pint jars
3 1/4 cups (1 ¼ pounds) fresh cherries with stems
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup maraschino liqueur
In a colander, wash the cherries and drain. Pit the cherries, keeping the stems attached to the fruit. (I like to use a paper clip to pit cherries: Unfold a paper clip, so there is a small end and large end. Place the cherry down on work surface, and insert large end of paper clip in bottom of cherry to act as a hook. Twist paper clip around until pit comes out, making sure to keep the flesh of the fruit and stem intact.) Reserve the pits.
In a medium saucepan, combine reserved cherry pits, sugar and water over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally with a heat-proof spatula until the mixture comes to a boil, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and strain the syrup through a fine mesh strainer, discarding the pits. Return the syrup to the saucepan and add the pitted cherries and lemon juice. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the cherries are slightly softened, about 5 minutes depending on the variety of cherry. Remove from heat.
Pour the cherry mixture back into a non-reactive container and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Add the maraschino liqueur and stir to combine. Divide the cherries between two pint jars, and pour over the liquid. Refrigerate overnight. The cherries are best enjoyed within a few days.
Note: From Dylan Simmons.
5 minutes. Makes 1 cocktail
1 ounce maraschino cherry liquid
1 ounce gin
1 ounce Campari
1 maraschino cherry, for garnish
1 orange peel, for garnish
Fill a cocktail shaker, or mixing glass, halfway with ice. Add the maraschino cherry liquid, gin and campari. Gently stir until chilled, 20 to 30 seconds. Strain and pour into a chilled rocks glass, filled halfway with ice. Garnish with the orange peel and maraschino cherry.
Note: From Dylan Simmons.
Born and raised in a rich Pennsylvania Dutch culture outside the Philadelphia area, Dylan Simmons has had a love for cooking ever since he could see above the kitchen counter. During his studies at the Culinary Institute of America, Simmons trained at the Los Angeles Times Test Kitchen, where he pursued his passion for food media, food science, recipe testing and development. After graduating from the C.I.A., Simmons started a catering business, creating dishes using local Pennsylvania produce. He has also worked for America's Test Kitchen (both the Cook's Country magazine and television show). With his culinary training, extensive experience in recipe development, and passion for using fresh ingredients, Simmons enjoys sharing the science behind the recipes he develops, explaining how and why they work so they can be easily replicated in the home kitchen.