Tuesday, August 25, 2015

It Started With A Cocktail

Dr. Wife and I were having drinks with some Professional Geeks from across the pond. We were in the bar in an upscale hotel, and I had ordered a Manhattan. At the bottom of my glass there was a cherry, but it was quite different from the bright red fruit that I was used to. This cherry was a darker shade of red, and packed considerably more flavor than I was accustomed to. My new friends quickly identified it as an Amarena cherry, something I'd never before heard of.

Fast forward a few weeks, and Dr. Wife and I are having dinner at a very nice steakhouse. Again I've ordered a Manhattan, and again I find myself enjoying an Amarena cherry (this time confirmed by the drinks menu). I took a picture of the menu with my phone, intending to look up these wonderful new cocktail cherries and acquire a jar or three.

In my research, I uncovered an unpleasant fact about the “maraschino” cherries that I'd been enjoying all these years. From Wikipedia:

In their modern form, the cherries are first preserved in a brine solution usually containing sulfur dioxide and calcium chloride to bleach the fruit, then soaked in a suspension of food coloring (common red food dye, FD&C Red 40), sugar syrup, and other components.
The brine solution completely removes all of the cherry's color and flavor. These colorless, flavorless orbs are then dyed and artificially flavored. Yum.

Suddenly, I understood why I'd enjoyed those Amarena cherries – they actually tasted like cherries.

As I looked over the good cherries, I began to wonder if I could make my own. I perused several recipes and they all boiled down to a simple process: Create a flavored syrup, pour it over your cherries, add your choice of liquor, and let it sit for a while (usually about a month).

Suddenly, inspiration struck. I would attempt to craft the ultimate cocktail cherry – a cherry that brings with it the flavor of a nice bitters. I looked up my favorite bitters and eventually located a recipe that purported to be the original. I adapted it a bit, and soon had a jar of cherries in my refrigerator, slowly becoming more awesome.

My experiment was a qualified success. What I ended up creating was, essentially, cherries soaked in bitters. They're too strong to be used as a sundae topping, but they make a fabulous addition to a cocktail.

Jerry Thomas's Cocktail Cherries

1 cup water
1 cup molasses
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 orange, zest and juice
1 stick cinnamon (approx 4 inches)
1 ounce cloves
1 ounce allspice
1 lb Bing cherries, stemmed and pitted
Dark rum

In a 1 quart saucepan, combine all ingredients except the cherries and rum and bring to a boil. Continue boiling until the syrup thickens enough to evenly coat the back of a spoon. Remove the syrup from heat and strain out the solids. Allow the syrup to cool.

Place the cherries in a 32 oz. Mason jar and pour the cooled syrup over them. Fill the remaining space with dark rum. Close the jar and shake to combine the liquids.

Store in your refrigerator for a month, agitating regularly.

I'm currently brainstorming a sweeter recipe for general use – maybe something made with brandy and honey instead of rum and molasses. I'm still not entirely sure what else I want to add to the syrup (suggestions are very welcome).