Making homemade cocktail cherries is one of the most satisfying and rewarding projects one can accomplish if the time is set aside. However, it’s a project with a deadline, and if you miss it, you’re completely SOL, relegated to purchasing expensive, boutique cherries or worse – the neon pink, sickly sweet maraschinos at the grocery store that make your intestines glow like a cylon raider.
It’s one of nature’s cruel jokes. Cherry season is nearly over, but cocktail season is just kicking into gear, and most of us haven’t had much time off since Memorial Day weekend in May (when cherries first became available, but you had to practically sell your grandma’s silver to afford them.) There hasn’t been a free moment to make it to the farmer’s market early enough to snag the good cherries and then do the project. Or there has been, but you’ve been lazy. But hey, we’re not here to judge you.
The good news is if you can handle it over the next few days, like an Indiana Jones escape, you’re gonna clear that collapsing door with your hat in hand. Or in this case, your delicious, boozy cherries.
Making homemade cocktail cherries is nothing new. Dozens of recipes can be found on the Internet using a variety of base liquors for the preservation syrup, and most of them are actually pretty good guidelines.
This recipe is different. You’ve waited, so your cherry selection might not be perfect. Maybe there wasn’t time to procure a full bottle of base spirit before the stores close. Maybe your cupboard contains only scant amounts of sugar because you forgot to replenish. We’ve all been there. So these cherries are not only brandied, they’re procrastinated and a bit mixed up.
Note: Ideally sour cherries are best for this if you can find enough of them, but a mix of small, fresh varieties will do. The smaller the fruit, the better. Remove the stems. Remove the pits if you care to. They’re easier to work with later and more versatile (just ask Jens Kerger about double chocolate brownies with cocktail cherries), but they’re also much sexier to the eye if the pits are left in. Plus think of the wonderful tannins that stone will impart over time.
The base booze can be anything brown – brandy, bourbon, Scotch, rye, rum or even tequila añejo. The classic recipe, of course, calls for Maraschino liqueur, but I find that to be too medicinal. If you stick with decent brown spirits, this will turn out great. Feel free to use two or three of them. Basic rule of thumb: if you would drink that combination in a cocktail, then your cherries will like it too.
It is crucial that you have a clean, airtight glass jar to store them in.
Procrastinated and Befuddled Cocktail Cherries
1 lb fresh cherries. See above note.
½ cup water
½ cup of sugar – either use all of one kind, such as granulated, turbinado or brown, or mix them up if you have a variety on hand.
1 stick cinnamon (optional)
couple scrapes of fresh nutmeg (or dash of powdered if that’s all you have)
1 cup of booze (by the way, I used 2 parts Spanish brandy and one part rye and it was fantastic!)
drop or two of vanilla extract if you have it
Heat the sugar, water and cinnamon on low heat for several minutes until sugar is dissolved and becomes a bit syrupy. Remove from heat. Add the cherries and coat well with the syrup. Add the booze and vanilla and stir to coat. Let cool. Carefully transfer the cherries, then the boozy syrup to the glass jar, turn it over a couple of times for good measure, then store in refrigerator. Ideally, let them steep at least overnight before use. These will last several months to a year, that is, if you don’t devour them before then. Yeah, I might just have eaten them on a bagel with cream cheese for breakfast once when no one was looking. I might have.