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
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).