Sunday, February 14, 2010

My Funny Valentine

In the interest of avoiding corn syrup and gee whiz, heck, it's Valentine's Day...  I decided to make some homemade Maraschino Cherries.  Did you know that in the 19th century, maraschino cherries were such a rich person's delicacy that the FDA started protecting the moniker in 1914, requiring all pretenders to employ the word "imitation" on labels?  No corn syrup and red food coloring back then.  Those are a result of prohibition.  The originals were tiny little sour things, brined in seawater and preserved in maraschino cordial, made from wild marasca cherries.  I decided to just go with brandy this time and not get the specialty maraschino liqueur.  It's an acceptable substitute according to the recipe, but you can find Luxardo and Maraska brands of maraschino liqueur at a good liquor store.  Just remember, these take a couple days to finish, so start early.

I started with organic frozen dark sweet cherries but I'd definitely try this with fresh Rainier cherries in season since there are tons of roadside and fruit markets to find them.  I also made a half batch since we don't go through them incredibly fast.  Using sea salt to brine the cherries will give a nice glossy finish as you will see.  Table salt has all kinds of additives, try to avoid it.

Homemade Maraschino Cherries

2 pounds pitted sweet cherries, Rainier preferred
3 Tbsp sea salt
6 cups water

4 cups sugar (I used evaporated cane sugar)
2 limes, juiced
1 cup dark cherries, mashed
1-plus cup maraschino liqueur or brandy
1 teaspoon bitter almond extract (optional)

Brine cherries by bringing 6 cups of water to a boil and adding 3 tablespoons of sea salt; use a salt with no additives to ensure glossy-looking fruit. Remove brine from heat. Halve and pit the cherries, adding them as you go to the still-warm liquid, then let the cherries sit in liquid, overnight at least, in the fridge.

Once the cherries are brined, bring the sugar, lime juice, and 3 cups of water to a simmer in a saucepan. Add the mashed cherries for a deeper, natural color. Let this mixture reduce by a third, then cool and add extract if using.

Drain the cherries and rinse them of brine. In a large, airtight jar, add the sugar mixture and the drained cherries.  You may strain and reserve the mashed cherries from the sugar mixture for a fabulous bonbon filling, which is what I did.  That way you can enjoy some of the flavor while waiting for the real ones to sit for 24 hours.

Top with at least a cup of Maraska maraschino liqueur or substitute a spirit like bourbon or brandy.  Because the cherries are preserved in alcohol, a snap-shut glass jar with a rubber gasket works just fine.  They will keep in your refrigerator for a few months.

That lovely pink color is all from the cherries.  No food coloring required.  Since it is a natural food coloring, it will probably not have a very long shelf life.  Another reason I did a small batch.  The alcohol should help it stay for a while though.

Bonus Bonbons

White chocolate, melted and tempered
reserved cherries from maraschino sugar syrup
chocolate covered cherry mold

Paint the insides of the molds with a teaspoon of white chocolate and pop in the freezer to speed set.  Fill with a scant half teaspoon or so of the cherries.  Top with another half teaspoon of white chocolate to fill the molds and freeze for 10 minutes to set.  Pop them out and serve them up to your honey.

My hubby loves white chocolate and chocolate covered cherries.  Needless to say this little bonus was a big winner.  This lovely little confection elicited groans of delight from him when he tried one and I will definitely be making them again for special treats.


  1. So impressed. Loving your blog. You have done a great job. So glad you decided to go ahead and share all about your kitchen adventures.

  2. Thanks! For the encouragement and the suggestion to start the whole thing up! And thanks for that cookbook recommendation, I've learned quite a bit and am trying all sorts of things from it. Hope you've had a great but hopefully relaxing Valentine's weekend. Enjoy that beautiful new baby!

  3. I love that you made your own! So much better than the jarred.


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