Homemade Maraschino Cherries
Homemade Maraschino Cherries:
A few years ago, a TV program showed how they commercially make maraschino cherries and OMG – I never wanted to eat them again!
Why? Because they process those cherries in such a way that they really are no longer cherries.
They first remove any trace of cherry flavor by soaking them in a “brine” of chemicals that bleaches them yellow/white. (This is not a brine as we know it in pickling. It is a chemical cocktail.) Then, they soak them for several days in high fructose corn syrup and red dye so that they look like a cherry again.
I wouldn’t even consider it food anymore. It is more of a cherry-like substance. It was gross.
So I thought…Why not make them myself?
The Recipe Testing (and eating):
Well, it turns out that there is a wide range of techniques for making maraschino cherries at home. I ended up testing about a dozen recipes.
I tried alcohol and non -alcohol versions. Some recipes requires a long brining process with salt. I even bought a special, hard to find liqueur that was suggested in a few other recipes. I also tried a variety of spices and extracts. And although all of the recipes were interesting, most were a little disappointing.
Of course, I ate them all anyway because…this was science!
I figured the issue was that the chemical-laced flavor I was used to in a maraschino cherry was not easy to duplicate. Ha, ha, ha!
The Special Ingredient:
That chemical flavor was not my goal. I wanted sweet flavor, with a hint of what the maraschino cherry of my childhood tasted like.
I was on a quest to find a preserved cherry that was delicious on its own and I would enjoy eating on top of a hot fudge Sunday or soaking in a Tequila Sunrise.
What I have below is a version I created from all my testing. It tastes like a spiced cherry with a hint of almond.
You see – the almond flavor is what I found to be most important.
Commercial maraschino cherries have a lot of almond extract in them. So if you want something that reminds you of the ones you ate as a kid, almond extract is the key ingredient.
Some Important Recipe Notes:
- COLOR: Don’t expect homemade maraschino cherries to look like the artificially colored red (or green) ones in the store. These cherries are REAL and will darken with time but still taste delicious.
- STEMS: I like to leave the stems ON the cherries, but you do not have to.
- THE PITS: You need to pit the cherries. This can be tricky when leaving the stems on. Of all the cherry pitters I have tried through the years, my current favorite is the Leifheit Cherry Stoner. (affiliate link) If I carefully place each cherry, it makes a clean hole without ripping the stem off. But what I really like about this pitter is that if you don’t have stems (like for a pie filling), you can move pretty fast. My kids rapid fire the cherries very quickly through this thing.
TLoe’s Maraschino Cherry Recipe
I make these cherries in small batches because I generally only need a few at a time. I store them in the refrigerator for up to 6 weeks rather than can them. I have instructions for water bath processing below, but the 25-minute process time does change the texture of the cherry somewhat (softer). So I rarely can them.
This recipe is for one pint-sized jar. You can easily double or triple the recipe if you wish to make more at a time. I tell you what to add to “each jar”, in case you are doubling the recipe.
Makes just 1 pint-sized jar
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 2 cups fresh cherries
To each jar add:
- 1 small (or piece of) cinnamon stick
- 4 whole allspice
- 1/4 tsp. almond extract
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine water and sugar. Heat until sugar is dissolved, stirring gently.
- Set aside and let cool to room temperature.
- Add lemon juice and vanilla and stir again.
- Wash cherries, leaving on the stems.
- Pit the cherries.
- Add the cinnamon, allspice and almond extract to each jar.
- Fill your jar with the pitted cherries, leaving a 3/4 inch headspace.
- Pack the cherries in tightly without smashing.
- Pour in the flavored syrup, leaving a 1/2 inch headspace.
- Use a wooden skewer around the edges of the jar to dislodge any bubbles
- Wipe the rim and place on the jar lid.
- At this point, you can store the cherries in the refrigerator for up to 6 weeks or water bath process them for longer storage. (See below) Just note that the water bath does change their texture a bit. They will darken and get softer.
- Either way, the flavor will take at least 3 days to soak into the cherries and then they are ready to eat.
Water Bath Processing: For long-term storage, process the pint-size jar(s) in a boiling water bath for 25 minutes. Adjust for altitude if you are above 1000 feet. Here’s a post explaining why you need to adjust for altitude.
What about you?
Have you ever preserved cherries in liqueur or brandy or some other method? Tell me in the comments!
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