In the last edition of the Cocktail Kit, we took another look at the joy of Homemade Bitters . This time, we’re looking at a seasonal cocktail delight that also has uses in number of impressive non-cocktail treats… the preserved cherry.
I posted about maraschino cherries back in ‘05, gave a bit of history and offered up a DIY recipe, but I didn’t give enough thought to one of the dastardly details that surround the maraschino cherry saga…
The fact is, the very first maraschino cherries were preserved with liqueur. This treat lost traction as the temperance movement of the early 1900s came to a head, and by 1920 — the dawn of U.S. Prohibition — maraschino cherries were manufactured without any liqueur at all.
“Less liqueur was used in processing and almond oil was substituted for some of the liqueur. Finally, the liqueur was eliminated altogether. By 1920, the American maraschino cherry was so popular that it had replaced the foreign variety in the United States."
The piece I quoted in my original maraschino post seems to indicate that liquor-soaked cherries simply lost the national popularity contest to sugar-soaked cherries. But the match-up in the date pattern indicates something different: the sugar-soaked maraschino cherry was marched in as a watered-down replacement for a treat that was just too vice-ridden for the dry 1920s to handle.
No wonder the maraschino rides high atop ice cream sundaes. No wonder it’s a necessary component of that most legendary of the goodie-goodie cocktails — the Shirley Temple .
Perhaps the maraschino is the bright-red flag of a nation attempting to return to some mythological state of innocence.
So what happened to the liquor-preserved cherries of old?
Well, other, less puritanical countries continued making them, and they’ve sustained an underground existence in homes and pantries in the U.S. As it happens, those little demon berries are in my kitchen and in my cocktails right now.
Brandied cherries continue to be popular Southern treats (particularly when they’re covered in chocolate), but you can also do what I do: preserve ‘em with bourbon.
Cherry season is coming right up, so now’s the time to take a Sunday afternoon and make up a few batches. Enjoy some now and save some for the holidays. Little jars of bourbon cherries make great gifts alongside a couple of cool cocktail or dessert recipes.
The biggest part of the task is simply pitting the fruits. Either do it by hand (just cut a 1/2-inch slice into each cherry along the stem end and dig out the pits), or invest in a cherry pitter. (Note: I’ve also seen a very clever trick in which you set a whole cherry on the mouth of a soda/wine bottle and use a chopstick to poke the pit through so it drops into the bottle. Quick and clever!)
Preserved Bourbon Cherries
2 lb sweet cherries
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup bourbon whiskey or brandy 1 cinnamon stick (optional)
1-2 whole star anise (optional)
- Wash and pit the cherries.
- In a large saucepan, combine sugar, water, lemon juice and spices (if using).
- Bring the mixture to a boil before reducing the heat to a simmer. Add cherries and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Remove cherry mix from the heat, and stir in the whiskey/brandy.
- Pack the hot cherries and syrup into sterilized jars, leaving some headspace.
- Cap the jars, and if you’re planning to can them, simmer for about 15 minutes in a bath of boiling water. If not, just cool and store the jars in the refrigerator.
Bourbon cherries make punchier stand-ins for their maraschino counterparts, or use them to top ice cream… or even sautéed duck breast.