Maraschino cherries were originally developed by Girolamo Luxardo in Croatia, and were marasca cherries that had been soaked in maraschino liqueur – a bittersweet liqueur which itself was made from marasca cherries, sugar or honey, and neutral grain alcohol.
Even the US FDA defined maraschino cherries in 1912 as “marasca cherries preserved in maraschino”. However, at least two things conspired against the poor masaschino cherry. One was the Americans’ never-ending quest for a cheaper alternative, and the other was the cultural surge against alcohol, culminating of course, in Prohibition. New methods were developed to preserve the fruit without alcohol, which answered both issues, and resulted in the production of “imitation maraschino cherries”, which took the nation by storm, even before Prohibition made them illegal. In 1940 the FDA redefined maraschino cherries as “cherries which have been dyed red, impregnated with sugar and packed in a sugar sirup (sic) flavored with oil of bitter almonds or a similar flavor”.
But now that Prohibition is over (and thanks to Utah, which provided the deciding 36th vote to repeal it), I figured there was no reason not to enjoy the real deal. Or at least, as close as I could come to it, anyway.
Since I was able to get my hands on some maraschino liqueur, I tried the recipe at the end of this New York Times article – not that it’s much of a recipe. Put frozen organic cherries in a jar, add maraschino liqueur to cover, and let sit for at least 3 days.
And the result? I checked them after three days, and although they weren’t bad, they weren’t all that exciting, either. It was rather disappointing. But now that they’ve been stewing for a week, the flavor has greatly improved. So I’d definitely suggest soaking them for a minimum of a week. They’re not anything like the commercial (imitation) maraschino cherries, since they’re not nearly as sweet and don’t have such a strong almond flavor. They’re also much softer since I started with frozen cherries. And there’s no stems, of course. But they still make a very nice addition to a cocktail. I think next spring I’ll try it again with fresh cherries. Since the marasca cherries are sour, I’ll use pie cherries instead of sweet ones – but maybe I’ll try some sweet ones too, just for fun. And I’ll leave on the stems.
If the idea sounds interesting, but you don’t want to bother with maraschino liqueur, this interesting article on maraschino cherries suggests using dried cherries rehydrated with brandy or whiskey. I think that would work equally well for the frozen (or fresh) cherries. In all honesty, I think brandy would do the job just as well as the maraschino liqueur. But if you do want to buy maraschino liqueur, try to get Luxardo (which is the original), or Maraska. I could only get Stock, which is supposedly not nearly as good as the other two. But hey, you take what you can get, right?
Or if you want to be even lazier, those frozen cherries were pretty darn good right out of the bag. I think you could skip the whole soaking-in-alcohol business and just pop a cherry place a frozen cherry right in your cocktail (or Shirley Temple).
We also tried a couple of recipes using the maraschino liqueur. We particularly liked the El Floridita Daiquiri (recipe at the end of the New York Times article above). But be careful – it’s one of those drinks that tastes mild, but really packs a punch.
This afternoon was so lovely – sunny and around 70 degrees, that we thought a cocktail on the deck was in order. I made fabulous Whiskey Sours, using Rendezvous Rye and topped with one of my home-made maraschino cherries. Delicious.