Brandied Cherries for Desserts and Cocktails
Face facts, people. It’s August. That means a few things. First, it’s going to be hotter than ever for the next few weeks, with everyone setting their sights on September and its (hopefully) cool, autumn relief. Second, it means that summer’s bounty of juicy fruits and fresh vegetables is coming to a close, so get ‘em while you can!
It’s always a bit depressing to see all of the colorful selections at the farmer’s market or grocery store dwindle down to mostly root vegetables and some specialty items that cost an arm and a leg. No, I will not be paying $8 for a pint of berries in November, thank you very much. There is, however, a solution to this problem: preserving.
Whether you’re pickling, making jam, or just canning your favorite produce, preserving these items ensures that you’ll be able to enjoy them no matter what the temperature is outside. Doing this at home is not only a fun weekend project, but you can feel better eating preserved foods when you know what went into them. Usually, when done at home, that means less sugar, less salt, and less of all that other hard-to-pronounce bad-for-you stuff.
All you need are some sterilized mason jars, your favorite summer produce, and usually less than an hour, before your pantry (and I’m sure your friends' and families' pantries) are stocked with homemade canned and jarred goodness.
The idea to make our own brandied cherries actually stemmed from my genius husband. We are suckers for a good old fashioned cocktail, and while Kramer can take or leave your usual store-bought maraschino cherry, it just doesn’t have the same visual appeal without it. I, on the other hand, could (and sometimes do) eat the cherries straight out of the jar. I have no shame. My brothers are the same way. When we were kids, my dad told us that maraschino cherries had formaldehyde in them in an effort to get us to stop trying to sneak them out of the fridge or asking for more in our Shirley Temples when we went out to dinner. It didn’t work. We were completely unfazed by potentially ingesting harmful chemicals (or we didn’t realize what formaldehyde was…one of the two.)
Either way: cherries. I love ‘em. So Kramer suggested that we make our own. Lots of cocktail bars in Brooklyn make beautiful, homemade, brandied cherries, which are obviously more delicious than the ones you can buy at the supermarket and even more pretty, with their naturally dark color instead of a suspiciously bright and clearly artificial red. The flavor is more mild, sweet but not too sweet, with a hint of cinnamon and cloves, because I steeped whole ones in the brandy and sugar before pouring it over the cherries.
The only downside to this process is, yes, you have to jar them up and leave. them. alone! Do not open the lids for at least four weeks, and I mean it! I even opened one up to take a peek after two weeks because I thought, c’mon, two weeks is a long time, I’m sure they’re fine. And honestly, they were good, but the extra time really macerates the cherries and turns them into something special. They’re perfect for baking into your favorite dessert, topping off a bowl of ice cream, or, of course, making almost any cocktail. They are an impressive detail in your entertaining repertoire that everyone will notice, and they also make fantastic holiday gifts, as the cherries will last for up to one year if properly jarred and stored.
However, Kramer and I are already halfway through our first batch, so try your best not to use them all up before you plan to give them away!
Homemade Brandied Cherries
4 pounds whole bing cherries, stems and pits removed
8 cups brandy (just be sure to use something you’d like to drink)
2 cups brown sugar
2 cups granulated sugar
2 whole cinnamon sticks
2-3 whole cloves
Mason jars with tight fitting lids, for storing
Clean your cherries, remove the stems, and remove the pits. Set them in a large bowl.
In a sauce pan, whisk together your brandy and sugars, then add in the cinnamon sticks and the cloves. Bring to a boil, and then simmer until the sugar has completely dissolved.
Remove the cloves and the cinnamon sticks from the mixture, and then pour it over the cherries. Stir to combine with a non-reactive wooden or plastic spoon, and allow the cherries and liquid to come to room temperature.
While the cherries cool, sterilize your jars. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, big enough to fit your jars, and drop the jars, with their lids, carefully into the water. Allow them to boil for 10 minutes, and then remove them with tongs.
Change out the water, bring more to a boil again, and add the jars for another 10 minutes, along with the lids. Remove them again with tongs, and place them on a clean surface to cool off before jarring your cherries.
When you’re ready, divide the cherries and the liquid among your jars. I used 2 larger mason jars, but you can use whatever you like. Seal the lids on tightly, place them in the fridge, and don’t touch them (and I mean it) for at least 4 weeks. These will keep well in your fridge for up to 1 year.