Those nuclear red little sugar bombs – removed as far as possible from the fresh-picked cherries they once were? I have a confession to make. I love them. I was the little girl who ordered a coke with cherries when out to eat with my parents – and not just for the novelty that my drink also came from the bar. I always would bargain for extra cherries on my ice cream sundaes. Even to this day, an amaretto sour isn’t complete without one of them at the bottom of the glass.
And I know – I KNOW. They are tasteless sugar bombs – a hollow representation of everything a cherry really is. I even read somewhere that they have to bleach the cherries to get them that color. Oh, and if you want, you really can get any color of the rainbow. Blech. Still, sometimes I can’t resist.
Then I started thinking that I could do it better. I read up on real maraschino cherries. The kind started in Croatia and Italy. I knew I had to make the all too brief Connecticut Cherry Season last. It was even shorter this year, as about a third of the Belltown Hill Orchards crop split. I went on the first day of sweet cherry picking for 8 pounds, and the next weekend for about 5 pounds of tart cherries. At $4.99/lb – I knew I had to make the cherries worth it.
The sweet ones went into to cherry whiskey jam, two small half pints to pickle, and into the chest freezer. The pits went to infuse the last of my bottle of Jameson. (Don’t like whiskey? Infuse brandy a la What Julia Ate or Handjobs for the Home with your pits instead.) The sour ones went to the chest freezer for future apricot sour cherry jam, sour cherry lime rickey jam, with some left over. Maraschino cherries had to be.
Homemade Maraschino Cherries
4 pints light-colored cherries (Tart/Rainier)
Spices to taste
1 bottle (750ml) Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
1/2 cup sugar
2-3 cups water
1 split and scraped vanilla bean
Heat the Luxardo, sugar, vanilla and water until boiling. You can add the empty vanilla pod in if you want – I stuck mine in my vanilla sugar jar. You don’t really need the water – except Luxardo is expensive and I wasn’t about to buy another bottle to fill four quarts. Plus, it’s very strongly flavored. I packed the cherries and spices in four clean, hot jars. Poured the boiling syrup over the top. Top with hot, wet lids and rings and process for 10 minutes.
I infused two pints with maraschino liqueur, sugar and vanilla. I did one more with the addition of lemon peel and cloves. The fourth was with bay leaf and cinnamon. I’ve only cracked open a vanilla pint, so I cant tell you how the other flavors went, but if the “plain” ones are any indication, you should abandon storebought maraschino cherries forever.
Oh, and Kaela – you’re right. They totally look like shriveled fingertips. But they are crazy delicious shriveled fingertips.