Last summer I spotted Melissa Clark's ultra-simple and delicious-sounding recipe for homemade maraschino cherries in the food section of The New York Times, and was intrigued. I made a mental note of it - and promptly forgot.
Then, the other night, while out for cocktails, a friend mentioned she'd made her own maraschinos. But the conversation soon bobbed and wove in a different direction (we were at PDT, and there were taxidermied animals everywhere!). The cherries got left behind. The next day, I emailed for the recipe. It turned out to be Melissa Clark's: "It is super easy," my friend wrote back. "And they get better with age - if they last more than a couple of months. Sour cherries are only in season for another couple weeks, so get on it!"
I hurried over to my neighborhood market and, to my great relief, they still had some sours from a local New York State grower, Red Jacket Orchards. The recipe called for one pint, but I snapped up two. I'd initiate myself into the sweet world of homemade maraschino cherries with a double batch.
The beauty of Melissa Clark's recipe, to my mind, lies in its simplicity. Besides sour cherries (a local approximation of the marasca ones from Croatia in the classic recipe), the only other ingredient called for is maraschino liqueur, a clear, dryish spirit made from whole marasca cherries - including their crushed, almondy-flavored pits. I already had a bottle on hand from making Aviation cocktails. I could get started right away.
But the cherries needed pitting first. I used an OXO Good Grips cherry/olive pitter for the job - a recent purchase - and was impressed by the way my new toy handled. I worked out a system where I'd pick up, de-stem, and insert the fruit into the chamber with one hand, while the other held the tool in place. Done.
Now for the alcohol. Since I was making a double batch, I measured out two cups of maraschino liqueur into a saucepan and set it to warm on the stove. Once it began to simmer, I turned off the heat and added the pitted cherries. I gave them a quick stir and let them cool before decanting them into a mason jar and sliding them into the fridge.
Then the waiting began. Two days' minimum maceration before they'd be ready - and, after that, a promise that they'd just keep on getting better. I tasted one on the first day (just as a point of reference, mind you) and no, the flavors had not yet mingled. Second day, the liquid had taken on some of the cherries' pinkness. Things were starting to look good. Third day: juicy, flavorful, booze-soaked cherries!
I'm definitely making Manhattans this weekend. (And I hear maraschinos are good on ice cream too....)
Related: DIY Cocktail Onions
(Images: Nora Maynard)