I’m pretty sure you don’t know how good you have it. Yes you, folks in the Pacific NW, where cherries are no big deal. Varying levels of tragedy have struck our local crop over the last few years… no one seems to grow them anymore as cherries are, at least in Connecticut anyway, a giant pain in the ass to maintain. The birds love them as much as we do (read: massive amounts of netting), and if we get a sudden unexpected rainy spring, much of the crop tends to split (read: very finicky). So – in short – though very few orchards grow cherries, and to do so around here they must be a little masochistic, we are very thankful that they are.
This post isn’t really double duty, it’s really triple duty. Because local cherries are $4.99/lb even when I pick them myself, and because I adore all things cherry – I am going to stretch every dollar I can carve out for them.
First Tour: Cherries in Bourbon Meyer Vanilla Syrup
Cherries + lemon. Cherries + vanilla. Cherries + bourbon. (Ok, who am I kidding – almost anything + bourbon.) YES. Why not all three? I pitted waaaaay too many sweet cherries (thanks Sarah for the help) and reserved the pits (you’ll see why in a minute). I used sweet Bing cherries, but you could use whatever kind of cherries happen to fall into your lap – sweet or sour. Now, for the laziest of infusions: I filled a few quart jars with fruit, poured 1/4 full with Bulleit Bourbon (my new obsession), topped the rest with a thin syrup, stuck in a split & scraped vanilla bean and the zest of a meyer lemon. It may not sound lazy, but it really is just pitting, making syrup, and stuffing things into a jar. Then the waiting period.
Why 24 hours? Much longer and the cherries start to discolor, and you get a decent infusion after only a day. On Day 2, once the syrup has a slight red tint, reserve some of the fruit for Tour 3, and put up the rest a la Well-Preserved. Psst: save an unprocessed jar in the fridge for a few bourbons & soda – 1/3 syrup, 2/3 soda, a few cherries and ok, maybe another splash of bourbon. You won’t be disappointed.
Second Tour: Cherry Pit Liqueur a la What Julia Ate
First, settle your internal debate over prussic acid. If you just aren’t comfortable, compost your pits. If you feel no fear, this recipe makes something out of nothing, which I adore. I always have vodka on hand for infusions, so that’s what I used. Next year, I’ll have to try it with brandy. I haven’t had the chance to taste it yet (still infusing!) but I have a feeling this is going to make it into an apricot preserve later this summer.
Third Tour: Cherry Bourbon Ginger Preserves
Those cherries that you reserved from the infusion? Put them in a pan, mash with fresh grated ginger for flavor and crystallized ginger for color. Cook down until you’ve reached a good set. Oh wait – you walked away and it cooked down too much? Add a few more chopped fresh cherries, splash with a little bourbon and water and pay attention this time.
All in all, a satisfying way to stretch our precious, exasperating, expensive favorite cherries.
Cherries in Bourbon Meyer Vanilla Syrup
Three quarts of cherries, pitted
1 quart thin 1:2 simple syrup
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
Approximately 1 cup bourbon
Zest of one meyer lemon
Make a simple syrup with a 1:2 ratio of sugar to water (i.e. 1 cup water, 1/2 cup sugar, boil briefly until dissolved) and let cool. Pit cherries, reserve pits. Add to a glass vessel of choice (preferably one with a lid). Fill the jar 1/4 of the way with your bourbon of choice. Split and scrape a vanilla bean into the jar, and add the scraped pod. Zest a meyer lemon into the jar as well. Top with simple syrup. Close the lid, shake well, store at room temperature for no more than 24 hours.
After infusing, prepare canners, jars and lids. Reserve the vanilla bean. I like to infuse in quart jars but pack into pint or jelly jars. Cold pack into hot jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace. Top with hot, wet lids and process for 15 minutes.
Use in cocktails, reduced over ice cream, make into hand pies, even make your own soda. Even eat out of the jar. I won’t tell.
Cherry Bourbon Ginger Preserves
4 cups pitted cherries
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
2 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger
Splash of bourbon
Let cherries infuse (or macerate) overnight – either with the above recipe or with jam ingredients. Mash fruit, add the rest of the ingredients and cook over medium heat until it just begins to thicken and the bubbles are about size of dimes. Pack into hot jars, top with hot, wet lids and process for 10 minutes.
This is a more liquidy preserve, but I like it that way. Spoon over yogurt, swirl into ice cream – this stuff is crazy delicious.