Homemade Maraschino Cherries the Good n Slow Way

Dark Sweet Cherries in a White Bowl Bake This CakeLet’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.

Homemade Maraschino Cherries in a jar Bake This CakeI 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! 🙂

Moonlight at the river photo by Leslie Macchiarella

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:

Comparing commercial and homemade maraschino cherries Bake This Cake

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!

Jar of homemade maraschino cherries and cherry syrup Bake This Cake

Day One Homemade Cherries Ingredient List:
1 pound dark sweet cherries, pitted
1 quart of water
1 teaspoon Kosher salt

Day One…

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:

Homemade Maraschino Cherries Step 1 Collage Bake This Cake

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:

Step  2 Maraschino Cherries Syrup and Soak Collage Bake This Cake

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:

3rd Final Step Making Marschino Cherries Collage Bake This cake

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!

Batch of Homemade Maraschino Cherries and Syrup Bake This Cake

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!

White Bowl of Dark Sweet Pitted Cherries Bake This Cake

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. 🙂

homemade vintage Maraschino Cherry Cake Slice by the river Bake This Cake

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.

Cherry Ice Cream in a Champagne Glass Bake This Cake

…and we’re serving up some cherry drinkies (with a drizzle of cherry syrup in a glass of champagne or lemonade)…

Cherry Champagne Cocktail BakeThisCake

Thank you for joining us for this little kitchen cherry craft adventure!

I hope you’re following our test cakes on Facebook. It’s fun to chat with you there in the evening and on week-ends. Please also join us on Instagram and Pinterest.

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!). 😀


Leslie Macchiarella photo by Julie Macchiarella

River Scene photo by Leslie Macchiarella Bake This Cake

Merced River in the Summer

Michelangelo at the river house photo by Leslie Macchiarella

Michelangelo at the river house

Dove on a wire in the country photo by Leslie Macchiarella

Dove chatting on a country fence

77 thoughts on “Homemade Maraschino Cherries the Good n Slow Way

    • Though the scientist types of our readers may elaborate, I believe the brining of the cherry allows for better absorption of the flavoring and I believe it also helps the cherry remain firm. If coloring is added, though we didn’t, it also helps maintain the coloring. Happy cherry making!

  1. Hi! I am going to be trying this recipe. I was wondering how thick is the syrup? I am looking for a recipe that makes a thick syrup (like chocolate sauce you would put on ice cream). Is this the kind of syrup this recipes produces? If not, how can I alter it to get this result? Thanks for sharing!

      • Oh that is great! Exactly what I was looking for. One more follow-up question – are these cherries “candied?” I was thinking like a Luxardo cherry, super sweet, super chewy, perfect for cocktails or ice cream!

      • These cherries are not super sweet and they are not super chewy like a candied cherry but they are sweet from soaking in the liquid are are perfect for cocktails, ice cream and toppers. The main taste factor is fresh-and-sweet, if that makes sense. Leslie

  2. Is the weight of the cherries before pitting or after. I made a large batch and had a lot of liquid left over, more than half.

    • Hi Laurie! So glad you’re making your own homemade batch of cherries. Yes, the weight of the cherries given is before pitting. And, yes, there will be extra syrup for your upcoming cherry cake and cherry frosting if you might want to make those or cherry ice cream or cocktails or sodas. Best, Leslie

      • I just was not expecting that much left over. But then I did make an 8 pound batch. 😉 We have an orchard so cherries abound this year. Cherry muffins with the juice was the first thing up.

        And I used Royal Ann cherries so they are more white. I am eating them now… Yummy.

  3. Hi there, I was just preparing a 5lb batch of cherries using this recipe and realized it’s become a sort of seasonal tradition for me. It’s definitely something I look forward to each year and looking back at my past comments realized I’ve been doing this for four years in a row now. I know this is not intended to be a long term preservative method for keeping them, but I find if I keep them in the back of the refrigerator, well sealed, they’ll typically last most of the way through the following year (if I make enough). There’s definitely some fermentation going on in there though, since after some months they actually tend to become vaguely carbonated, an interesting surprise to bite into a carbonated cherry on your ice cream. I don’t think the alcohol content is too high, but it’s definitely a little “punchy” at that point. Here’s looking forward to another year of brilliantly tasty cherries! Thanks again!

  4. Hi,
    I tried splitting the cherries between cold and room temp for the brining part, I’m now refrigerating the two lots in syrup. I did notice the room temp ones seemed to leach away more color, and when I added the syrup the room temp ones colored the syrup much more than the refrigerated ones. Will let you tomorrow know how they taste . Oh ! I did substitute lime for lemon juice and forgot to add vanilla.

  5. If you leave them in the salt brine in warm or room temperature, the slight lactofermentation or wild yeast fermentation will help prolong the shelf life, not to mention, if you’re lucky, you’ll get some wild probiotics.

  6. I wonder if you added just a touch of pureed beets in the simple syrup you could add some bright red color without artificial coloring or an greatly adjusted taste.

    • Yes, beet powder might work in place of pureed beets to redden the color though I imagine the taste would also be changed somewhat — but I’m loving the idea of a new experiment. Maybe adding a little raspberry also could dampen the beet flavor. Personally, I like the darker look of the natural cherry but sometimes, I know, you just gotta go red-red. 🙂 Let us know if you test it.

  7. Just made these and they are divine.
    Cherries are in season where I live (or actually in the country we import from) so I bought an absurd amount of them. I ate cherries, drank cherries in the form of smoothies and milk shakes, froze cherries, made cherry jam, made cherry pie filling, made savory dishes with cherry sauces, and now made these delicious maraschinos.
    I don’t like any aspect of those store bought bright red things. They look and taste like something straight out of a laboratory, so you can imagine my delight when I realized I could actually make my own.
    To accord to my tastes, I made a few alterations to the syrup. In my opinion, lemon juice can be a bit overpowering in syrups and jams, so I always use pure citric acid for acidity instead. I used fresh squeezed pomegranate juice instead of water and added a few raspberries to give it this gorgeous red color (strained it afterward to get rid of the seeds). This gave the syrup a wonderful undertone of raspberries which I absolutely adore. I can’t really taste the pomegranate at all, so I’ll only use the raspberries next time. Also, in addition to the almond extract, I added a few drops of homemade vanilla extract (emphasis on few, you definitely don’t want the vanilla flavor to be too strong). I thought about adding some booze but ultimately didn’t (may try in the future).
    Here are some (awful quality) pictures I took.

    I’ll have my good camera by Tuesday so I’ll take some more deserving pics then.

    It’s difficult to even begin describing these. The aroma of bitter almonds plus the acidity of the citric acid combined with the bright taste of fresh cherries is to die for. Add in the subtle hints of raspberry and vanilla and you may think you had an early trip to heaven. Not to mention the prettiest of colors that make you just want to keep looking at them.
    I’m currently doing a 10-day water fast (I love cooking too much so even when fasting, I prepare a bunch of recipes and serve them to other people), so I only had half a cherry. Still, as soon as it touched my tongue I felt an explosion of a multitude of flavors that compliment each other beautifully.
    This really is an amazing recipe and I’m so glad I found it.
    Oh, and by the way, I don’t have one and don’t really plan to buy a cherry pitter so I found this after some quick googling: http://www.budget101.com/attachment.php?attachmentid=6826&d=1371559596
    I had the perfect funnel for this job lying around. Removing their pits using this method is really fast, but I think I’ll use whole cherries (stems and all) next time, since they look much cuter that way.
    Anyways, thank you deeply for sharing this, which is now my go-to recipe for sweet, syrupy cherries, and sorry for the huge wall of text!

    • Hi Ramon, Thank you so much for your funnel tip idea to remove cherry pits. Its a great cherry pit hack. 🙂 And the photos of your homemade cherries are adorable! I love the way you describe the bitter almond flavoring and the way you’ve added raspberries and pomegranate flavors. You’re the one! I love all your ideas! Keep up the amazing food crafting.

  8. I’m on day 2 of this recipe and looking forward to the final result. Instead of white sugar I am using sugar in the raw. The syrup is brown in color but has a slight molasses flavor and is delicious. I’m going to use these cherries to make cherry cordials.

  9. This is my second attempt at this recipe. Last year I used some older cherries that I didn’t feel were snacking worthy- just a small batch. I loved it!!! So delicious, and the cherry syrup was amazing, so this year I’m attempting to quadruple the recipe, and then I’m going to can/seal the leftovers!

    • Hi Trevor, Thanks for checking back for a quadruple batch of homemade maraschino cherries. Yes, that cherry syrup is one of my favorite things on earth. Good luck with your large batch. I hope you’re able to let us know how it goes. Leslie

      • Finished my batch and it turned out wonderfully!! I made a few changes. I didn’t have kosher salt, so I ended up using regular table salt. After realizing that I should probably have used half as much salt considering it was regular salt, I added a bunch more water, but I did find the cherries to be fairly bleached the next day when I rinsed them. I didn’t have any lemon juice, so I substituted lime juice. I let the cherries sit in the syrup for two full days before adding the almond extract. I always add the full- if not extra- almond flavoring. Also, when adding the extract, I didn’t bother separating the cherries from syrup, but rather just added it to the mixture and stirred it in. I left that mixture to sit for a day or two before splitting it up. I have a lot of syrup left, so cherry ice cream, cherry soda, and maybe a cherry mojito will be in order!! Thanks for the great recipe.

  10. Thanks so much for this recipe! I’m just wondering if you ever made the original recipe with maraschino liqueur? I’d be very interested in seeing how that went if you did.

    • Hi, Tanya, I’ve been so busy making various (and larger) versions of the maraschino cherries from this post (using various almond flavorings and other flavors), I completely forgot about trying out the Italian version. Thank you for the reminder. I’m going to head back to that.

  11. Hi Leslie, excited to try this recipe. For those who want to avoid sugar, xylitol is an awesome substitute. It’s not artificial, comes from birch trees, and tastes and resembles sugar. It’s a sugar alcohol, but has no sugar grams so it’s diabetic friendly.You can find it in most any healthfood store.

  12. Going to try this. Love Maraschino Cherries, but I love making stuff with real produce I pick up at the local farmers market. I’m getting into canning and would love to figure out how to make large batches and store them for long periods. I also think they would make a grand Christmas gift. But seeing as I try to purchase only seasonally and locally I would need to make and store them for months.

    • Hi Beth Anne, I’m not sure how frozen cherries would hold up to the soak for maraschino cherries. It might work if they are fancy grade, thawed & well drained. If you test it, please share your experiment. If it goes wrong, perhaps you could purée for cherry cake. 🙂

  13. I just made these with a honey simple syrup instead of sugar, and they are great!!! I can’t have sugar (SCD diet for Crohns), and I’m so excited to have found this. Thank you! I’m going to try to make a grain-free pineapple upside-down cake, and now I have pretty cherries to put in the center of the pineapple circles. 🙂

  14. Hi, I wanted to thank you for this. I love maraschino cherries, but recently learned how they’re made and was horrified. They’re bleached white and then soaked in high fructose corn syrup! As we just picked up 20lbs of fresh local sweet cherries, this article was most a most welcome find! I did have a question, however. Why don’t you add the almond extract on day 2 and just give it the third day to soak before separating out the extra jar of syrup? Just curious, it seemed kind of silly to go to the trouble of draining them, adding the almond extract, then putting the syrup back(half of it anyway).

    Regardless, the two pounds I started with went so well, I’m definitely going back for a few more pounds. The extra syrup is great when added to some sparkling water…really great. Your cake recipe is next on my list! Thanks again!
    Ithaca, NY

  15. I may have just ruined 3 lbs. of otherwise innocent cherries. OFS kicked in and I brined in three TABLEspoons of kosher salt but only left them in the fridge overnight after discovering what I’d done. I also didn’t have enough regular sugar so I dumped in some powdered sugar for the syrup. Now everything is back in the fridge and we will see what the outcome will be tomorrow.

      • Well, I tasted them this morning and I’m sure that they aren’t what you intended for me to do. They taste ok but nothing spectacular. Can’t say that I recommend using all that salt in the brine even though the salty taste I expected wasn’t there
        . The powdered sugar made the syrup too sweet but I think I’ll still use it for that cake or whatever, just less of it. All in all, they are still superior to the store bought things.

  16. I attempted to make these, I tripled the batch and left them in the salt brine overnight on the counter. They ended up staying in the brine for about a day and a half because I didn’t have enough sugar for step two. When I moved on to step two the cherries had turned brown and smelled bad, like they had fermented. I continued because I wasn’t sure if that was supposed to happen. Anyway, I had to throw away three pounds of cherries. If you are going to make these I would put them in the fridge for the brining like Leslie did! I’ll be attempting take two another day.

  17. I must be unique in that I LOVE the taste of most bottled maraschino cherries! However, I’ve discovered that if I eat too many they give me a migraine headache. I’m sure it’s due to the chemicals they’re made with. So now I only eat no more than maybe 3 at one time. But I’m so anxious to try this recipe! Thanks!

    • Hi Laurene. My wife is also severely allergic to tree nuts. McCormick makes an Imitation Almond Extract that we use in our baking. So, there are almond extracts that don’t contain tree nuts. Just make sure to read the ingredients on the packaging, and contact the company if in question..

  18. Pingback: Episode 35: Get maraschino-ed | Alphabet Soup Podcast

    • Hi Cheryl, thanks for stopping by. I’m not sure about using artificial or substitute sweeteners but if you try it please write in and let us know how the cherries turn out. If I can find some time, I’ll try some experiments. Best, Leslie

    • Why would you go to all this trouble of making something so freshly homemade and then use an artificial sweetener like spenda that is harmful? If it’s a diabetic situation,there are other forms of non-artificial sugars out there.

    • Cheryl,

      The sugar acts as a preservative, pulling the free water out of the cherry, reducing the opportunity for bacteria growth. I wouldn’t recommend substituting and artificial sweetener, but you could try honey, which also has a preservative effect.

  19. Pingback: How do they make Maraschino Cherries? | Nutrition by Nancy

  20. Pingback: Behold The Horrifying Way Maraschino Cherries Are Made | Hello Keltie

  21. You have COMPLETELY inspired me! I’ve never thought about making maraschino cherries before – but I’m hoping I’ll be doing it in the next week and since I JUST bought an ice cream maker for the first time in my life – I will definitely be making some cherry ice cream!! Wheeeeeeee!!

  22. Hello! So glad to find out about the brining stage. What would I need to do to can the cherries? I canned my own several times before, but they turned grey and soft, because they are heated. I use steam canner. Maybe add some lemon juice and quickly bring heat up?

    • Thank you, Liz. Let us know how the homemade cherry ice cream goes. I used a vanilla custard recipe, subbed our cherry syrup for both sugar & vanilla & added puréed Maraschino cherries at the end stage of churning. It was luscious!

    • Hi, Yan. Thanks for stopping by and for your comment. You’re right about the real deal cherry. These are just a simple play on the real marasca cherry used with maraschino liqueur but since 1940 in the U.S. maraschino cherries have been defined as “cherries which have been dyed red, impregnated with sugar and packed in a sugar syrup flavored with oil of bitter almonds or a similar flavor”. We’ll have to try upping the ante and trying to replicate the original in a future post. That would be fun!

  23. Made my first batch and they are incredible! Gonna stop by the store tomorrow and start another batch (my first was with 2 1/2 lbs. I’m upping it to 3 – 4 lbs.). So much better than the commercial ones!!

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