Wednesday, December 22, 2010


We don't need no stinkin' maraschinos.

Well, maybe you do, especially if you are a fan of Rob Roys, Manhattans, Shirley Temples, ice cream sundaes, root beer floats, fruitcakes, or patriotism. America. Fuck yeah.

So you and I, we need maraschino cherries. What we don't need is a factory to make them for us, not when we can make a better product at home, free of artificial food dyes, high fructose corn syrup, red bees, or communism.

There are a lot of recipes for homemade maraschino cherries on the internet, and I've wanted to try them for a while. Our bee's run-in with the local maraschino factory gave me the push to get off my butt and do it.

The problem with most of the recipes on the internet is that they're fudged. Traditionally, maraschino cherries are made from marasca sour cherries and preserved in straight Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur. Unfortunately, marasca cherries are generally only grown in places like, I dunno, the Czech Republic, and thus are hard to find at your local supermarket. Even regular sour cherries are hard to get. The cherries you see in the produce aisle are almost always sweet cherries, and most of the recipes use them based on their widespread availability.

Fortunately, I live in New York, where some of the major producers of sour cherries are just up the Hudson, and I LOVE sour cherries. Every season, I go up to Rhinebeck, NY and pick about 50lbs of them, pit them, and chuck them in my freezer so that I can have a cherry pie whenever I feel like it. Even better, of the several kinds of sour cherries available in Rhinebeck orchards, one is very similar to the traditional marasca cherry.

Mmm, tart.
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For the curious, there are two main types, or cultivars, of sour cherry: Amarelles tend to be pure, bright red, smaller, with clear juice; Morello varieties tend to be dark red, almost black, large, with bright red juice and flesh. Marasca cherries are members of the morello cohort, and I happen to have a couple of bags of the locally grown variety (English Morello) in my freezer. They're a bit larger and probably a bit sweeter than the traditional marasca, but they're close enough. For those of you who don't stuff your freezers with cherries every summer, Trader Joe's cherries in light syrup are pretty good, and are Morellos. Just make sure you drain and rinse them lightly before you use them.

Half an Amarelle.  Bright red with clear juice.
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Half a Morello.  Deep red with red juice.
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Seeing as how I have the right sort of sour cherries, I figured that the sweet cherry–based recipes wouldn't be appropriate. With a little research I found just what I was looking for—a New York Times food piece about homemade maraschino cherries using nothing but cherries and maraschino liqueur. Seriously, here's the recipe:

1 cup maraschino liqueur
1 pint sour cherries, stemmed and pitted (or substitute one 24-ounce jar sour cherries in light syrup, drained).

Bring maraschino liqueur to a simmer in a small pot. Turn off heat and add cherries.
Let mixture cool, then store in a jar in refrigerator for at least 2 days before using, and up to several months.

Easy enough, right? Traditionally, the cherries would be pickled in seawater prior to being preserved in liqueur, but for now, let's just keep it simple.

The K.I.S.S. method of maraschino cherry making.  Luxardo and cherries.
P.S.  Yes, I know I need to re-oil my block.
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This is what a full cup of Luxardo Maraschino liqueur looks like.
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The heated liqueur macerates the cherries faster than a cold infusion.
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Lookin' fine.
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Now for waiting.  Why have I got to wait?  Why?
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