Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Maraschino Cherries Should Contain Booze

Since January when I read this Accidental Hedonist post about the history of maraschino cherries I have become staunchly anti prohibition. Maraschino cherries used to be soaked in booze! I guess I sort of knew this, I wasn't really surprised, just saddened that America's overzealous coupling with puritanism could be allowed to ruin what sounds like a wonderful idea. Even worse, why did we continue with the bleach and sugar bath post 1933? It is obviously way past time to bring the booze back to the cherry but after much googling I was unable to locate a source for old fashioned sinful maraschino cherries. So I was forced to make them on my own.

(Warning: The ingredient list of "cherries" and "booze" supplies many ways for this post to slip into dirty innuendo, I will try to resist them, but it will be very hard) (hee. hard.)

I think as far as internet bloggers go I'm pretty qualified to lead everyone down the path to cherry exploration. In addition to being an adventurous chef who can reliable tie a cherry stem in a knot with her tongue I also grew up with cherries. My grandparents lived in Cherry Valley, California where they grew a few acres of cherry trees. Every year at cherry harvest my family would trek down from the mountains to help out. In my parent's case this meant picking and boxing bucket after bucket of cherries for the "we pick" sales and praying that the suburbanite children didn't fall off of a ladder and kill themselves thus certainly leading to our family's demise at the hands of a liability lawsuit. For me and my brother and cousins cherry season meant a couple of weekends perched in a trees snacking on cherries and spying on the children being dragged on "you pick" family outings. (it also meant ignoring our mothers' warnings regarding what becomes of children who OD on too much fruit... but since this is a post about food I'll leave this little lesson to your own learning). In addition to great childhood memories the cherry orchard all access pass also afforded me direct knowledge of some awesome Cherry recipes (including cherry strutzle cake which the internet is insisting is just like stollen but I assure you it is not -- stollen is bready, strutzle is decidedly a cake with the crumbly top coat to prove it) but, the Germans weren't big on liquor soaked fruit. Until now.

I was supposed to find marsca cherries for this recipe to be authentic, but I don't live in Italy or Slovenia and while my local produce market was willing to stock cherries that have made the cross country trip from California they do not seem to be importing from Europe just yet. I had hoped to find some Queen Anne cherries which is what American maraschino cherry makers use since they're lighter in color and thus more easily dyed florescent red but I came home with a standard bag of bings.

The key to authentic maraschino cherries is cherry liqueur, specifically cherry liquor made from marsca cherries, the most prominent brand is Luxardo which I could not find. I substituted Heering Cherry Liqueur, a product of Denmark made from danish stevns cherries, which seem to exist only to serve this liqueur and a microbrew beer as the internet makes no other references. Coincidentally I'll be in Denmark come Saturday, perhaps I'll try to hunt down some cherries (or at least drink the liqueur on it's home turf). The liqueur itself is surprisingly drinkable. I tend to find liqueurs overly syrupy but this one is sharp and alcohol tasting (in a good way) without losing the feel of cherries. I could concoct many an entertaining cocktail using this as an accent and may have to keep a stock in my bar (aka the shelf where I keep booze).

I know what you're thinking -- Brianna, this is a lot of lead in for a a bar condiment recipe. But I had no choice but to provide ample back story in order to fill out this post since the actual making of the maraschino cherries is easy-peasy. Saturday morning I washed my cherries and packed them into a glass jar, covered them in a loving blanket of cherry liqueur, sealed the lid and put them in a dark place to marinate. At the last minute I decided to make two versions, one traditional and one with half cherry liqueur and half brandy since brandy cherries are also a common enough drink garnish. Today, when I got home from work I broke open both jars and began the cherry sampling, and it was good.

Surprisingly the cherries came out bleached! The few sad fruits stuck at the top of the jar where they weren't completely immersed in the loving embrace of alcohol came out black due to oxidation but the ones buried only a layer below were bright pink in the case of the brandy mix and a stunning red in the all cherry liqueur version. Neither was anywhere near the shade of nonalocoholic maraschino cherries but after tasting each I can't see any reason not to always use the adult cherries. The cherries tasted like a solid more cherry-ish version of the booze they were soaked in and for this reason I think I like the half brandy version best, the flavor is more complex and has a pleasant smoky aftertaste. I don't think I would enjoy straight brandy cherries as much as I suspect they would lose all resemblance to the fruit. The brandy cherries also seemed a bit firmer, this is probably due to the higher alcohol content. This is not to say that the straight Heering soaked cherries are anything to turn your nose at, they're also a vast improvement over their bleach soaked brethren and I suspect that if you don't have a taste for wine (which brandy is made from) you'd probably prefer the cherry only version.

I felt it only appropriate to sample my cherries as a garnish so I whipped up a drink including one part Heerings, one part lime seltzer and, of course, a cherry and was quickly in summer drink heaven. I know I should be sampling my cherries on top of a sundae but I've already had my daily dose of ice cream and am trying not to use this blog as an excuse to gain 3000lbs. I assure you the alcoholic sundae will be explored soon. Also on the exploration list is to try this recipe with dried cherries which I hear works... and which I'd be very happy about come winter.


Anonymous said...

Wow I could actually eat your cherries;)heehee. Since I'm deathly alergic to the ones they bleach and then dye that bright neon red. I want to try them.


Anonymous said...

I don't even drink and those sound delicious.
(Of course, ANYTHING is better than those terrifying neon orbs that usually pop up on top of sundaes, etc. You know it's bad when the blue ones are no less appetizing than the red ones...)


Berkana said...

The company that makes the original maraschino liqueur is Luxardo; if you do an image search for "Luxardo cherries" you'll find the authentic marasca cherries. They don't preserve them in marasca cherry liqueur; they preserve them in a raw sugar syrup. The cherries are not bright red; they're a rich, blackish-red color. I've had a similarly prepared Amarena cherry (do an image search for "amarena cherries"), and they are very delicious, especially following a nice cocktail.

I've made spiced brandied cherries using chilean black cherries, and I'm currently experimenting with california bing cherries in maraschino liqueur (the real stuff from Luxardo, not the nuclear red junk). My personal tip: use the darkest cherries you can find, preferably the kind with dark flesh. Those don't bleach; instead, they color the liquid.