Let’s make homemade maraschino cherries! We’ll mess with a small batch of dark sweet cherries to prove-up that homemade maraschino cherries are WAY better than those bottled things! I know, I know, lotsa folks love commercially prepared maraschino cherries (2 of my sisters in particular are bottled maraschino cherry lovers). And there are some amazing Italian delicacies and liqueur-soaked beauties. But we’re starting with baby steps here and comparing fresh homemade cherries to the average run o’the mill variety that are just yuck.
I have been wondering (since I’m about to show you a fabulous vintage Maraschino Cake recipe), what these little darlins would taste like if they were made up from scratch. And — I think we’re on to something here!
Slow Food Warning! Even though it is simple, this is a 3-day process, so you have-2-have fun with it! Take a few minutes after work each night with your buds by your side and run this little kitchen science experiment for yourself and see if I’m not right about these little heavenlies in a way that you would never guess compared to the bottled store-bought cherries.
…So let the moonlight shine on your lovely sweet fruit! :)
Commercial maraschino cherries start with a much lighter colored cherry and they are turned pure white during the first stage brine. Our cherries won’t turn white during the brine. In fact, they may turn a little grey but then when they soak they come back around. You COULD add some good quality red food coloring to the final step, but why? Technically speaking, if you don’t add dye to the cherry they might not qualify as a “real” maraschino cherry (haha!), but let’s live dangerously and throw dyes and chemicals to the wind, eh? Here’s a comparison photo between store bought and homemade cherries:
I admit the commercial cherries look bright and cute…but you won’t want to spit out the homemade cherries. In fact, if you like eating fresh cherries, these little puppies are going to knock your socks off!
The first step in the process is the salt brine. We’re using Kosher salt because it contains no iodine (and I hear that’s important) and it has no additives to prevent lumping. You can use pickling salt if you have it or (I think) any salt that contains no iodine…but Kosher salt is easily found so go for that.
You’ll need a big jar or a few smaller jars and I suggest a cherry pitter (big time).
I also suggest you triple this recipe…cause our biggest problem (actually our only problem) was sampling too many of these delicious cherries through the process — and I can almost guarantee you they’ll go fast!
Day One Homemade Cherries Ingredient List:
1 pound dark sweet cherries, pitted
1 quart of water
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
Pit a pound of dark sweet cherries, boil up some salt water for just a minute (1 quart of water to one teaspoon of non-iodine salt), cool the water down (just let it sit) so the cherries don’t cook, add the pitted cherries and immediately lock and load them in the salt water overnight.
Some folks leave the brine on the counter for a day, though we decided to chill them (for no good reason) but let us know in the Comments if you have a better reason to leave them on the counter for the brine soak. Click on the photo below to open it large in a separate window:
Day Two Homemade Cherries Ingredient List:
2/3 cup of water
2-1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice
Now to Step 2 on Day Two…
The next day, make a simple stove-top syrup with 2/3 cup of water and 2-1/3 cup sugar. Add 2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice and boil for 30 seconds until the water stirs clear.
Drain and wash the brined cherries, throw away the salt water and store the cherries in the simple syrup chilled for 24 hours or at least overnight.
Click on the photo below to open it large in a separate window:
Day Three Homemade Cherries Ingredient List:
1/2 teaspoon almond extract, fine quality
(optional: fine quality food grade red food coloring, but we didn’t use this)
Almond Flavoring Tip: We used Cook’s Pure Almond Extract for this project and it produces a light and lovely almond flavor. In an alternative flavoring experiment, we tried LorAnn Oils Bitter Almond Oil and it produces a strong, spicy, almost-cinnamon-almond flavor…so if you try this type of unusual flavoring, you might want to reduce the 1/2 teaspoon to just a few drops because it is very potent and quite spicy.
Final Step is easy on Day Three…
Remove the cherries from the fridge, drain and hold the syrup. To the syrup add 1/2 teaspoon of fine quality almond extract (emphasis on fine quality). You can add a whole teaspoon if you like a more almond-y flavor to your cherries. We wanted just a hint of it so we went light on the almond flavoring.
If you want your cherries to be a brighter red, you may add a fine quality red food coloring at this stage. Because the cherries started dark, they won’t get bright red like a commercial cherry but they will get a little “redder” but not uniform in color (since they started at various colors of natural red). So some will be a little lighter and darker than others.
Click on the photo below to open it large in a separate window:
Bottle the cherries in cute little jars with the flavored syrup and chill at least overnight. You will end up with an extra bottle of cherry syrup that you can use for our homemade Maraschino Cake and for our Cherry Frosting. You can also make Cherry Champagne Cocktails or Cherry Lemonade and homemade Maraschino Cherry Ice Cream by just adding some of your way cool and bright homemade cherry juice and some finely chopped homemade maraschino cherries. whoo hoo! We’re on a cherry roll!
Not canned for preservation: This is not a recipe for preserving long-term cherries so keep them refrigerated and use them within a couple of weeks (if you can hold onto them that long) — although the cherry juice will last bottled in the fridge for a good long time. If you do go the canning route, check out this article on “Home Canning Fruit” for safe home canning tips.
Now you’ve got some awesome homemade maraschino cherries on your hands. What do they taste like compared to the regular bottled version? Yeah, I thought so. :)
Big tip! This is a small kitchen project that will produce 2 jelly-sized jars of cherries and a jelly-sized jar of syrup (maybe a little more if there is less taste testing). SO you may want to up your game by increasing the quantities. If you triple the recipe using 3 pounds of cherries, you will have enough for snacking, baking an awesome vintage fresh cherry cake with fresh cherry frosting, cocktails or cherry lemonade AND homemade cherry ice cream. So don’t disappoint yourself with too few of the final batch. haha! OR just start out slow like I did — before I went back and made more. haha!
Check out our Homemade Vintage Maraschino Cake and Cherry Frosting using a terrific turn of the century recipe and using, you guessed it, our own homemade maraschino cherries (and a little homemade cherry syrup)! I feel like a proud mama when I serve this. :)
Here’s a shot of our homemade cherry ice cream (okay, yum!). We made it by adding a little cherry syrup and a bit of fine-chopped homemade maraschino cherries to a batch of homemade vanilla ice cream.
…and we’re serving up some cherry drinkies (with a drizzle of cherry syrup in a glass of champagne or lemonade)…
Thank you for joining us for this little kitchen cherry craft adventure!
Let me know what you think about this project — and don’t forget to tip me with your own experience in prepping homemade cherries. (Oh, and I love to see your photos!). :D
Related articles you may enjoy:
- Boston Sherry Cake (bakethiscake.com)
- Betty’s Vintage Banana Layer Cake (bakethiscake.com)
- Charlotte Cake with Wild Blackberry Bavarian Cream (bakethiscake.com)
- 1963 Kansas Buttermilk Cake (bakethiscake.com)
- Grandma Matsen’s Sexy Cinnamon Rolls (bakethiscake.com)
- Behold The Horrifying Way Maraschino Cherries Are Made (buzzfeed.com)