What's an ice cream sundae without a cherry on top? This week, I set out to learn the history of maraschino cherries, and also to make a homemade version on my own.
According to an article published last summer in the Seattle Weekly, maraschino cherries originated centuries ago on the Adriatic shores. There, small, extremely sour marasca cherries were pickled in a combination of sea water and cherry cordial. It wasn't until Prohibition in America that the candy-colored, super-processed adaptation of maraschino cherries was born—since booze was banned, the liquor was replaced with almond-flavored syrup.
To make real maraschino cherries, you need maraschino liqueur. I went to several liquor stores in Brooklyn and couldn't find it, so I decided to substitute regular brandy. And that's where I committed the fatal error: I went cheap. Really cheap. Like, dusty bottom shelf, plastic-bottle-with-a-handle cheap.
I figured that since I was only cooking with the brandy, as opposed to sipping it from a snifter, it didn’t really matter. Boy was I wrong. My cherries came out tasting bitter, one-dimensional, and extremely alcoholic.
The recipe that I used, excerpted from Imbibe magazine, is originally from the Swizzle Stick Bar at Café Adelaide in New Orleans, which is part of the famed Commander's Palace Family of Restaurants. I'm including it below because I'm sure that if you splurged on a nice bottle of booze the results would be fantastic.
I've certainly learned my lesson: when it comes to creating ice cream's crowning glory, don't use a pauper's ingredients.
Lu's Brandied Cherries
- 1 pound sweet cherries, pitted
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice, fresh-squeezed
- 1 cinnamon stick
- Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup of brandy
Wash and pit the cherries. In a saucepan, combine all ingredients except the cherries and brandy and bring to a rolling boil. When the liquid begins to boil, reduce the heat to medium. Add the cherries and simmer for 5–7 minutes. Remove from heat, add the brandy and let cool. Transfer the cherries into clean jars and refrigerate, uncovered until cherries are cool to touch. Cover tightly and refrigerate for up to two weeks.