Whether you are drinking a Manhattan or a Pina Colada, it ’s more than likely you have a Maraschino Cherry adorning your drink.
Unfortunately, Maraschino Cherries have gotten a bit of a bad rep due to the candy-coloured monstrosities that often adorn everything from cocktails to ice cream. And for that, you have Prohibition to blame.
Now traditional (let us call them Old World) Maraschino Cherries (like those that Luxardo produces in their neat glass jars) are soaked in alcohol (yep, you guessed it, in Maraschino Liqueur), so, of course, during Prohibition, the powers that be were having none of that.
So a guy called Ernest H. Wiegand, a professor at Oregon Agricultural College, believing that necessity is the mother of invention came up with a non-alcoholic version in the 1920s.
Wiegand devised a process to brine the fruit with calcium salts, which removed the flavour and colour from the cherries. He then poached them in sugar syrup and injected them with red dye, creating the candied cherry best known for its use in a Shirley Temple.
Later, in addition to the customary red, the cherries were made available in a variety of fruity flavours and colours, including purple, green, orange, blue, and yellow but we are leaving that well alone.
The Old World recipe, preserving the fruit in its own juice and usually has smaller and darker cherries that retain the natural sour flavour of the cherry. And that’s what we are here to recreate today.
Now making these at home is not going to produce results that are exactly like the Luxardo one – for one thing, the syrup will be thinner – but we think it’s still pretty close.
Now cherries are one of those things that come onto season for such a short time that if you’re not careful, you can blink and miss them altogether. For this reason, we recommend that you try and get frozen cherries, or even canned if they are available in your area.
Not only can you buy them at any time of year but usually they are already pitted, which trust me, saves a lot of fiddling around.
Homemade ‘Old World’ Maraschino Cherries
1 pound cherries, pitted
1 cup water
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 lemon peel
5 black peppercorns
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
pinch of salt
1 cup Luxardo liqueur
In a medium-sized saucepan, combine water, sugar, cinnamon stick, lemon peel, peppercorns, nutmeg, and salt. Stir to dissolve sugar and bring to just under a boil. Lower heat to a simmer for 5 minutes and then stir in cherries.
If you are using fresh cherries make sure you remove the stems and the pits. If you are using frozen or canned cherries, defrost them, strain them and put them on kitchen paper to dry out a bit. Then coat cherries in the syrup and then remove from heat.
Stir in the Luxardo liqueur and let the mixture sit until cooled. At this point, you can store the cherries in the fridge up to one month, or you can them and store in a cool, dry place.
If you want a thicker syrup, use a richer sugar syrup recipe (so 2:1) and add a little cherry juice to the mix.