Now that cherry season is in full swing, let's take a gander at this fruit's twisted doppleganger... the unnaturally red, uniformly flavored maraschino.
Like tiny Stepford Wives, maraschino cherries begin life as juicy tree fruits but are turned soulless through a process of bleaching, dying and sweetening. Creepy, right?
A little background:
"Maraschino cherries, the kind most often used in drinks and on ice cream sundaes, are made from sweet cherries. The maraschino cherry originated in Yugoslavia and northern Italy where merchants added a liqueur to a local cherry called the 'Marasca.' This cherry product was imported to the United States in the 1890s as a delicacy to be used in the country's finest restaurants and hotels.
In 1896 U.S. cherry processors began experimenting, using a domestic sweet cherry called the Royal Anne. Less liqueur was used in processing and almond oil was substituted for some of the liqueur. Finally, the liqueur was eliminated altogether. By 1920, the American maraschino cherry was so popular that it had replaced the foreign variety in the United States."
Taking a cue from ancient instructions at Uncle Phaedrus, a self-anointed "finder of lost recipes," I've revamped an version of do-it-yourself maraschinos for a smaller batch that suits the modern kitchen.
As it turns out, maraschino-making is very much like pickling, but instead of brine, we use a sweet, colored syrup as the preservative vehicle. I imagine if you're opposed to dyes, you could just leave out the coloring altogether. You'll simply end up with preserved cherries that have a (far more natural) rust-colored hue.
Homemade Maraschino Cherries
For the brine
1/2 quart water
2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp alum
For the cherries
1 lb sugar
1 Tbsp lemon juice
3/4 cup water
1 lb pitted cherries
1/2 Tbsp almond extract
1/2 Tbsp red food coloring
1. In a saucepan, mix the water, salt and alum and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and soak cherries overnight in this brine.
2. Drain the cherries the following day and rinse them in cold water. Pack in sterilized, sealable jars.
3. In a saucepan, combine the sugar, lemon juice and water. Bring to a boil and add the almond extract and red food coloring. Remove from heat and pour the mixture into the jars of cherries.
4. If you want your cherries to be shelf-stable, seal in a water bath (about 20 minutes for pints or 25 minutes for quarts). Or simply seal, chill and store in your refrigerator.
Use to garnish your own homespun sundaes, killer cocktails or crazy-good banana splits.