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The Original Maraschino Cherry

Bringing cherries and maraschino back to Maraschino Cherries.

Wow, the Farmers Market was suddenly bursting with cherries today, which is very exciting for me since we just ran out of cherries for cocktails.

Traditionally, Maraschino Cherries were made by steeping marasca cherries, from the mountains of Croatia, in Maraschino liqueur, which was made from the very same marasca cherries, along with their leaves and pits. However, like many good things in the world of cocktails, the 20th century’s fusion of progress and bureaucracy conspired to make them into the sucky near plastic concoction that we all know today.

Currently, Maraschino Cherries are officially defined by the Food and Drug Administration as “cherries which have been dyed red, impregnated with sugar and packed in a sugar sirup flavored with oil of bitter almonds or a similar flavor”. Can’t say I am a fan of eating anything that has been “Impregnated” and “Packed”, but this definition came into usage in the 1940s when the FDA refined many of its rules. The process basically brines the cherries so that they become completely flavorless and colorless and then the flavor and color are added back in with dye, corn syrup and artificial flavoring.

As the cherries became less related to their original ingredients they also lost the thing that made their name make sense, being made from marasca cherries. Most people now pronounce them like mara-SHEE-no, which I guess is kind of appropriate for their sheeny plasticy quality, but since they were made from marasca cherries they are actually pronounced mara-SKEE-no. However be prepared to come off as an insufferable cocktail geek if you correct anyone in mixed company for saying it wrong.

So, back to the near infinite collection of cherries I just brought back from the farmers market, I decided to mix up a batch of traditional maraschino cherries. If you are lazy or can’t find cherries or maraschino liqueur you can actually just buy good cherries pre-made here, but in the department of easy to make cocktail ingredients, this is one of the easiest if you have the ingredients.

You start by pitting a pint of cherries, sour cherries are most like marasca, but a sweeter cherry like a bing or a brooks will do just fine if you use the smaller cherries in the batch. Put the cherries in a bell jar or some sealable container, and then pour warmed maraschino liqueur over them until they are completely covered. You can warm the liqueur in a sauce pan on the stove over low heat for a minute or two so that it is just hot to the touch. Seal the jar up and put it in the refrigerator for a few days and then open and enjoy yourself a Manhattan or a properly made Old Fashioned.

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