Thursday, March 13, 2014

How To: DIY Maraschino Cherries

Note: Long time, no see - I'm playing catch-up with the blog, so a lot of the posts you'll be seeing for the next few weeks are from last year. Thanks.

Lately I've been on a bit of a Manhattan kick - they might just be my favorite cocktail (but it has to be with rye - as much as I love bourbon the flavors just don't meld as well, in my opinion).
I always try and use the best (within reason!) ingredients I can, whether it's cooking, brewing, or anything inbetween. Finding good rye whisky is easy. Finding good vermouth is a little harder, but nothing a trip to Total Wine can't fix. But good maraschino cherries? That's tricky. The bright red ones you see all over aren't really anything like the real thing - they don't taste like cherries either. I've tried some of the higher quality ones, but they all miss the mark - too sour, too vegetal, too... weird. So I gave up and decided to make my own.
Doing some research I learned that maraschino cherries are actually named after the liqueur (which itself is named after the variety of cherries it is flavored with, Marasca cherries). In ye olden days, they were made by soaking fresh cherries in maraschino liqueur and a heavy dose of table sugar. At some point, they mutated into the bright red, flavorless contraptions hoisted on you at the local Denny's.
So, TLDR, get some fresh, pitted cherries, and throw them in a jar with some maraschino liqueur - can't be too hard, right? Unfortunately, I had this brilliant idea in December when cherry season was decidedly over. Luckily, one of the higher-end supermarkets was still carrying fresh bing cherries. I pitted them myself, leaving the stems on (for the cool factor) as well as reserved the pits for the jar - much like when making Kriek, it's the pits that give you all the delicious nutty flavors (ever wonder why we put almond extract in cherry pie? Yep.). As for the liqueur, any brand will do, but the most popular/readily available seems to be Luxardo.
I placed as many cherries as would fit, pits, and about 1/2 cup of granulated sugar in a mason jar and then filled it to the brim with the maraschino liqueur. After about a week they looked 'done' to me, although at 60 proof I doubt they will really ever go bad.

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