I dare you to say "maraschino cherry" out loud in polite company. It's a hard thing to do -- they've got a bad reputation. Garishly red and pumped up with nasty chemicals and corn syrup, commercially bought maraschinos might be used for a bit of memory-lane holiday baking but what they don't taste like is an actual honest-to-god cherry.
Wanting to add a good maraschino cherry to one of my home-mixed cocktails, I decided to make my own. My first attempt was soaking sour cherries in bourbon.The recipe involved enough pitted sour cherries that could fit into a half pint jar and some Maker's Mark poured over top. Wait a month and call it done. The cherries were delicious in a Manhattan and so was the cherry-infused bourbon. I was hooked.
The following year, I took all the sour cherry pits that I had left over from an 8-pound bag of cherries and soaked them in vodka. The cherry pit vodka resulted in an amber liquor that tasted similar to amaretto without the sugar. Heavenly! Sure, there's a teensy tiny bit of cyanide from the pits, however, the amount is so small that I think we're all safe with a few drops in a cocktail. I'm living proof as I've been happily spiking my cocktails with the stuff for the past year.
This time around, I'm using some fresh sour cherries and Luxardo, a delicious maraschino cherry liqueur that I've used happily in old fashioned cocktails like The Last Word and the Aviation. Maraschino liqueur is a sweet sipper that is flavoured with sour Marasca cherries, perfect for recreating my own maraschinos.
Many recipes call for a quick brining of the cherry to keep the firmness and the bright red colour intact. I decided to skip this process and keep things super simple with a boozy soak. In three months time, I should have a good mellow tasting boozy cherry that I can use in an old fashioned or to top an ice cream sundae.
1 pint of sour cherries, pitted or not
cherry pit liquor or amaretto
maraschino liqueur (I like Luxardo)
Pack clean & inspected cherries (skip the bruised ones) into a glass mason jar (or an old jam with a good lid). Pour enough cherry pit liquor or amaretto to fill 1/4 of the jar and then cover with the maraschino liqueur until they are covered by 1/4 inch. Screw the lid on tight and store in a cool, dark place for three months. Give the jar a shake every few days within the first week to check for bulges. If it bulges (this is normal), just unscrew the lid to let the air escape and reseal. Use in your favourite cocktail. Once opened, the jar should keep in your fridge for months.
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