Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Homemade Maraschino Cherries: Recipe Roundup

Last week I posted about several different methods for preserving all of this summer bounty. One of those methods used good old hard liquor to preserve fruit.

Since I just managed to snag the end of cherry season in early July, I decided to store up as many cherries as possible by making maraschino cherries. Turns out other homegrown foodies have been doing the same!

Here is a round-up of the method I used and a few other recipes as well.

As I mentioned before, maraschino is actually a "bittersweet, clear liqueur flavored with Marasca cherries." Luxardo is the most most popular brand of this type of liquor, which happily the Wine Source had in stock. You are welcome to use whatever liquor you like: Luxardo, vodka, brandy, cognac, etc.

No corn syrup and red food dye here!

I started out this project by doing some quick online research and then winging it with a simple preparation.

After several hours pitting cherries and putting them into quart-size mason jars, I put a cup of natural cane sugar into each jar, then filled the jars up with liquor and put them in my fridge. Done and done.

Other websites list a variety of methods: using just plain cherries and liquor, blanching the cherries in salt water, using hibiscus tea for coloring, and more.

The Punk Domestics website links to an article by Sean Timberlake which recommends using specifically sour cherries and simmering the cherries in Luxardo instead of a long-term soak.

I'd have to say that I found that the sweet cherries I used were fine, but sour cherries might be more authentic. His recipes also does not include sugar, so if you'd like omit that part of the recipe it seems like that would be fine.

This Chowhound discussion suggests methods like blanching the cherries in salt water to maintain their firm texture and adding hibiscus tea or cherry juice to the liquor to enhance the color. Read the discussion for more details!

Soaking the cherries in salt water may sound weird, but that's also a suggested method for making watermelon rind and cucumber pickles. The salt water soak takes out extra water from the fruit, resulting in a firmer pickle.

One of the full recipes posted on Chowhound (by Striper Guy) is below.

The recipe recommends blanching the cherries quickly in salty water, but I would probably go for soaking the cherries in saltwater overnight in the fridge instead. I think it would take out just as much water and you would avoid accidentally cooking the cherries too long and making them soft.

I recommend reading the actual discussion for more details if you really want to nerd out on the process.

Cocktail Cherry Recipe:

- Blanch cherries in very salty boiling water for 4 minutes
- Rinse and soak for a few minutes in cool water to get rid of salt
- Place cherries in large jar
- Add healthy amounts of the following: star anise, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, allspice, anise seed,   fennel seed
- Make some REALLY concentrated red hibiscus tea (this is to help the cherries keep their color) and add 1/2 cup to the bottle
- If you can find some good cherry juice add a cup to the jar
- Fill the rest of the jar with vodka or cheap brandy
- Add sugar to taste
- Wait at least a month

Sounds exciting!

If you're looking to keep it simple though, adding a cup of sugar to a quart jar of cherries and filling the jar with did the job.

The color of the liquor became a deep red and very cherry flavored without any added cherry juice or hibiscus tea for coloring, and the cherries were perfectly firm after about a week. I do still want to try that saltwater soaking method though just to experiment.

I did end up canning the maraschino cherries with a spice mix of cinnamon stick, a few cloves, and several peppercorns.

If you want to replicate the canning process, I boiled the jars for 15 minutes in a water bath to can them.

The heat from the canning process probably evaporated all of the alcohol from the cherries, but at least they are flavored like real maraschino cherries. I wasn't 100% sure that the cherries would be shelf-stable otherwise.

UPDATE Here is a reply from Chowhound StriperGuy in response to one of my many maraschino cherry questions:

Just FYI you can't destroy the alcohol. The only issue with cooking and alcohol is that it has a low boiling point 172F so boils off more easily than water. Also why distillation of alcohol is possible.

As long as your jars were sealed when you heated them, the alcohol is trapped and none was destroyed or evaporated away.

Also, as long as you use a decent amount of alcohol (I think 20% should do it) ain't nothing going to grow there.

Hmmm, so perhaps the alcohol didn't evaporate during canning?

Boiling water does heat to 212 degrees F, which is above the boiling point of alcohol. I'm not sure if the alcohol is prevented from evaporating by the jar lids or not because the canning lids seal completely only *after* they cool down from the water bath.

Sounds like I could use some of Chicken-Man's scientific expertise!

I did consider that the alcohol would allow the cherries to be shelf-stable, but figured it would be safer to sterilize the contents of the jar in a water bath just in case, since I will be storing them in the pantry until winter and will hopefully be providing the cherries to the public. So I want to be absolutely sure that they cherries are safe to eat.

Hoping to have a fancy cocktail party fundraiser for the Boone Street Garden! These homemade, local maraschino cherries will certainly add a nice touch.

I guess we'll find out when we drink the contents of the jars in winter if they are still alcoholic or not!

UPDATE #2: Chowhounds help me out again!

JMF from the Chowhound forum actually did an experiment to see if the canning process will evaporate alcohol. Here is his response:

OK, so I put 16 oz of 50% abv alcohol in a pint canning jar. Sealed it and put it into a waterbath and brought to a boil for 30 minutes, then removed it and cooled it down. There was no determinable loss in liquid quantity (there may have been a few ml. loss, but such a small amount that it wasn't noticeable using a lab measuring retort), and zero change in alcohol by volume. Absolutely none.

Yay! Looks like the cherries will still have a nice kick to them!

Just because cherry season is over doesn't mean you can't experiment with this same method using different produce.

Soak some peaches in cognac and sugar syrup to serve with chopped toasted nuts and oats plus whipped cream. Or mix cherry tomatoes and basil in vodka for a delicious Bloody Mary addition. Or mint and blueberries in rum for an extra classy mojito.

StriperGuy also kindly forwarded along this New York Times article about preserving fruit in alcohol. There's a great list at the end of all the different ways to use boozy fruit from tarts to serving with roast meat.

The possibilities are endless!

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