Hi friends! Remember when I went to Hood River and brought back a bunch of delicious Lapin cherries? A few days later I invited my friends Anna, Grayce, and Sara over to make cocktail cherries. I have always loved a good cocktail (or mocktail) cherry. As a kid, I loved having a Shirley Temple at special occasion dinners. As an adult, my tastes have evolved, at least a little bit, and now I adore Toschi’s Amarena cherries.
My friends and I branched out and made three types of cocktail cherries: maraschino, bourbon vanilla, and brandied. It was so much fun! Anna went on a cherry picking adventure of her own and brought over several pounds of sour cherries. Pitting cherries is kind of a pain, so I highly recommend inviting several fun friends to help you. My friends were cherry pitting champs!
First, the Maraschino cherries. We roughly followed the recipe of Amy Stewart, aka the Drunken Botanist, with a few slight modifications based on Sara’s previous experiences in making Maraschinos.
Maraschino cherries are traditionally made with sour cherries.
Pitted sour cherries
Put a large saucepan on the stove and cover the bottom of the saucepan with sour cherries. Cover the cherries with maraschino liqueur. Bring the cherries and liqueur just to a boil, and then pour into jars. Make sure that all of your cherries are covered in liqueur.
We made a second batch and added 5 large pieces of lemon rind before bringing to a boil.
The verdict: Not surprisingly, these cherries were the most sour. The batch with lemon peel tasted slightly sweeter. Sara reports that they are delicious in an Aviation cocktail.
Bourbon Vanilla Cherries
We couldn’t find a recipe for bourbon vanilla cherries, so we made our own!
Pitted sweet cherries
Fill your jars with the cherries. Put two cups of sugar and ½ cup of water in your saucepan, and cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Add ½ - ¾ cup of bourbon, and 2 tablespoons of vanilla extract. Cook until bubbling, and then pour over cherries into jars.
The verdict: These cherries turned out delicious, but also very sweet. I was hoping that the syrup would be a bit thicker, as it is for the Toschi Amarena cherries, but I did not want to cook off all of the bourbon. Next time I make them, I will cook the sugar/water/bourbon/vanilla mixture longer after adding ¼ - ½ cup of bourbon. Some of the alcohol will burn off, but I would imagine you can achieve a thick syrupy consistency, and a bit more bourbon can always be added right before jarring the cherries. But they were still delicious as-is!
We used Holly & Flora’s lovely brandied summer cherries recipe as our inspiration.
Pitted sweet cherries
Amaro aperitif liqueur
5-6 large pieces of orange peel
Fill your jars with pitted cherries. Put any juices left over from pitting your cherries in the saucepan. If you do not have much cherry juice, substitute a few tablespoons of water. Add ½ cup of sugar, a cinnamon stick, 3 whole cloves, and 5-6 pieces of orange peel. Cook until the sugar has dissolved. Add ½ cup of brandy, 1/8 cup of Amaro, and 3/8 cup of orange liqueur. Stir until the liquids are combined, then remove the cinnamon stick, cloves, and orange peels from the syrup, and pour the syrup over the cherries into the jars.
The verdict: This batch turned out great! These cherries taste balanced and complex, and are definitely the most deserving of being dropped into a Manhattan.
I managed to hold off for a couple of days before tasting the cherries, in order to give the flavors time to marry. Overall, I am very happy with the results of our cherry experiments. Anna was already inspired to make two more batches of sour cherries, one in heavy syrup, and the other in sugar and rye whiskey. YUM!
Cherry season is starting to wind down in the Northwest, so grab some cherries soon if you want to make your own cocktail cherries in 2014!