A world apart from the cloying, artificially red maraschino cherries available at the supermarket, this homemade version requires very little effort. Though it is used sparingly, the grape juice adds body and complexity to the syrup, enhancing the flavor and color of the cherries and balancing out any unripe undertones. The star anise adds a hint of the exotic; if it’s unavailable, cardamom or cinnamon can be used instead. Almond, a traditional pairing with cherry, adds a mellow roundness to the cherries. The melding of these flavors happens during the long steeping in the refrigerator. These maraschino cherries are the inspiration for the creation of the Maraschino Old-fashioned and the nonalcoholic Maraschino Muddle . They’re also fantastic over ice cream or a slice of warm, toasted pound cake. During the winter when fresh cherries are not available, substitute frozen cherries.
Yield: Makes 2 to 3 dozen cherries, enough for 12 drinks
1½ cups water
½ cup red grape juice (use 100% juice)
1 cup sugar
3½ ounces fresh lemon juice (from approximately 3 lemons)
Pinch of salt
1 whole piece star anise
1 pound sweet cherries, pitted
1 teaspoon almond extract
In a nonreactive saucepan, add the water, grape juice, sugar, lemon juice, salt, and star anise. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the mixture until the sugar has dissolved.
Add the cherries and almond extract. Simmer on low heat for 10 minutes or until the cherries have exuded some of their juice and the syrup has taken on a distinctly cherry flavor. Be careful not to overcook. The point is not to actually cook the cherries, but to heat them in the syrup just long enough to bring out their essence.
Remove the pan from the heat, transfer the cherries and the syrup to a bowl, and let cool to room temperature. Transfer to a container with a tight-fitting lid, cover tightly, and refrigerate. The longer the cherries steep, the more flavorful they will become.
QUICK MARASCHINOS When fresh cherries are at their ripest and juiciest during the summer, you can easily prepare quick homemade maraschinos. Sprinkle a handful of pitted cherries with a teaspoon or two of sugar, stir, and refrigerate for 1 hour before garnishing.
PLANNING AHEAD Can be made up to 2 weeks in advance and stored in the refrigerator. The cherries are ready as soon as they are cool but are better if steeped at least 24 hours.