Maraschino cherries have been a popular cocktail garnish since the late 1800s. They are a classy way to accompany drinks like the Tom Collins, the Aviation, and many other of our favorites. However, they are also rather expensive. At least if you want the original. Therefore, if you want to save some bucks, you can also make your own homemade Maraschino cherries.
What are Maraschino cherries?
Maraschino cherries are sweetened and preserved cherries of the Marasca variety. That is a species original to the Dalmatian region in Croatia. They used to be an add-on to the liqueur made from said cherries since medieval times. They are dark in color, sweet in taste, and -contrary to common belief, non-alcoholic.
Only cherries from the Marasca variety are legally allowed to be labeled as Maraschino. For others, you have to include the word imitation or stick to cocktail cherry or similar terms.
These imitations are the bright red, almost neon-colored cocktail cherries. Those with an artificially sweet taste that many serve instead of authentic Maraschino cherries because they are more affordable and easier to get. So, if you thought, Maraschino cherries would be bright red and unpleasant to eat, you now know you had the imitation, not the real deal.
Homemade Maraschino cherries
For most of us, it's difficult (or impossible) to get either Marasca cherries or the non-alcoholic Sangue Morlacco juice. These two things you would need to make real Maraschino cherries.
Therefore, these homemade Maraschino cherries are going to be an imitation (unless you can get Marascas). But one that's way more natural and closer to the original than the neon-colored imitations -also often referred to as modern Maraschino cherries- you see on supermarket shelves.
Ingredients you need
To get that typical Marasca flavor into your homemade Maraschino cherries, you best make them slightly alcoholic. Because then you can use Maraschino liqueur to get that characteristic sweet and slightly almondy flavor. Besides the liqueur, you need sugar and cherry juice or water.
Ideally, the cherry juice should be unsweetened to bring a bit of tartness into the mix. Alternatively, you can add a little bit of lemon juice. The cherries, in turn, should be sweet. Usually, the color is a good indicator of the level of sweetness: the darker the cherry type, the sweeter it is.
Most, if not all, of the alcohol from the liqueur will cook out during the process. But if you have to be 100% sure that your homemade Maraschino cherries are alcoholic-free, you can replace the liqueur with a tablespoon of almond extract. I prefer the liqueur, though.
Tools you need
You will need a cherry pitter or a sharp knife to remove all the stones. Maraschino cherries traditionally come without the pit, so you don't have to worry about how to remove them elegantly when sipping your drinks. The pitter will make your life a lot easier, and the cherries will stay intact. So if you can, use one. Additionally, you will need a saucepan, a preserving jar, and a large spoon.
How to make the best homemade Maraschino cherries
First, you have the pit your cherries. If you want to keep the stem, that's quite a fiddly task. You have to be very careful and pit them from the side. I don't care about the stem and save myself the trouble. Plus, the original cherries also don't have it. Normally, only the imitation cocktail cherries have it.
Once you have removed all pits, get a saucepan and start making your syrup. For that, you add the sugar, some water, the cherry juice, and the Maraschino liqueur into the saucepan and turn up the heat. Keep stirring until the mixture starts to boil and the sugar is dissolved, then reduce the heat. That's already the syrup in which you will soak your cherries.
If you want to cook out the alcohol, add Maraschino liqueur with the other syrup ingredients. If you plan to keep a bit of booze, wait until the sugar is dissolved and add it after you have turned down the heat.
Finally, add your pitted cherries to the syrup and let them simmer, and soak up all the flavors at low heat. You don't want the cherries to become mushy, so keep checking their consistency. After 10 - 15 minutes max, remove the saucepan from the stove and let your mixture cool down.
Once the cherries are cooled, add them into your preserving jar together with the syrup. The ratio should be approximately 50:50 - half cherries, half syrup.
How are real Maraschino cherries made?
To make original Maraschino cherries, producers soak their marasca cherries in Maraschino syrup. The syrup is made with a juice called Sangue Morlacco. That juice is also required to produce Maraschino liqueur.
There is no food coloring or additional preservatives involved in the recipe. And the final product has a sweet but pleasant taste.
If you now want to know more about the original or how the imitations are made, you can read this article about Maraschino cherries.
- 1 cherry pitter
- 1 sauce pan
- 1 large spoon
- 1 preserving jar,
- 0.5 lb sweet, dark cherries
- 0.5 lb caster sugar
- 5 oz unsweetened cherry juice
- 3 oz Maraschino Liqueur
- Pit your cherries and put them aside for a moment
- Make the syrup for soaking your cherries by adding sugar, juice, and liqueur into a saucepan. Boil the mixture until the sugar fully dissolves.
- Let the mix simmer at medium heat for a few minutes to cook out the alcohol from the liqueur, if you want to. Make sure it's only simmering, not actually boiling.
- Now, add the cherries to your saucepan and reduce the heat further. Let the cherries soak up the syrup at a low simmer for 10 minutes.
- Remove the saucepan from the stove and let the cherry-syrup mix cool down.
- Fill your homemade cocktail cherries in a preserving jar - half cherries, half syrup- and store them in the fridge until the next time you mix your favorite drinks.