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Homemade Maraschino Cherries

How to make Maraschino Cherries - LivingHomegrown.com

Homemade Maraschino Cherries:

A few years ago, a TV program showed how they commercially make maraschino cherries and OMG – I never wanted to eat them again!

Why? Because they process those cherries in such a way that they really are no longer cherries.

They first remove any trace of cherry flavor by soaking them in a “brine” of chemicals that bleaches them yellow/white. (This is not a brine as we know it in pickling. It is a chemical cocktail.) Then, they soak them for several days in high fructose corn syrup and red dye so that they look like a cherry again.

I wouldn’t even consider it food anymore. It is more of a cherry-like substance. It was gross.

So I thought…Why not make them myself?

How to make REAL Maraschino Cherries - LivingHomegrown.com

The Recipe Testing (and eating):

Well, it turns out that there is a wide range of techniques for making maraschino cherries at home. I ended up testing about a dozen recipes.

I tried alcohol and non -alcohol versions. Some recipes requires a long brining process with salt. I even bought a special, hard to find liqueur that was suggested in a few other recipes. I also tried a variety of spices and extracts. And although all of the recipes were interesting, most were a little disappointing.

Of course, I ate them all anyway because…this was science!

I figured the issue was that the chemical-laced flavor I was used to in a maraschino cherry was not easy to duplicate. Ha, ha, ha!

Kidding!

The Special Ingredient:

That chemical flavor was not my goal. I wanted sweet flavor, with a hint of what the maraschino cherry of my childhood tasted like.

I was on a quest to find a preserved cherry that was delicious on its own and I would enjoy eating on top of a hot fudge Sunday or soaking in a Tequila Sunrise.

What I have below is a version I created from all my testing. It tastes like a spiced cherry with a hint of almond.

You see – the almond flavor is what I found to be most important.

Commercial maraschino cherries have a lot of almond extract in them. So if you want something that reminds you of the ones you ate as a kid, almond extract is the key ingredient.

Some Important Recipe Notes:

How to make real Maraschino Cherries

  • COLOR: Don’t expect homemade maraschino cherries to look like the artificially colored red (or green) ones in the store. These cherries are REAL and will darken with time but still taste delicious.
  • STEMS: I like to leave the stems ON the cherries, but you do not have to.

Making Maraschino Cherries

  • THE PITS: You need to pit the cherries. This can be tricky when leaving the stems on. Of all the cherry pitters I have tried through the years, my current favorite is the Leifheit Cherry Stoner. (affiliate link) If I carefully place each cherry, it makes a clean hole without ripping the stem off. But what I really like about this pitter is that if you don’t have stems (like for a pie filling), you can move pretty fast. My kids rapid fire the cherries very quickly through this thing.

TLoe’s Maraschino Cherry Recipe

I make these cherries in small batches because I generally only need a few at a time. I store them in the refrigerator for up to 6 weeks rather than can them. I have instructions for water bath processing below, but the 25-minute process time does change the texture of the cherry somewhat (softer). So I rarely can them.

This recipe is for one pint-sized jar. You can easily double or triple the recipe if you wish to make more at a time. I tell you what to add to “each jar”, in case you are doubling the recipe.

Makes just 1 pint-sized jar

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 cups fresh cherries

To each jar add:

  • 1 small (or piece of) cinnamon stick
  • 4 whole allspice
  • 1/4 tsp. almond extract
  1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine water and sugar. Heat until sugar is dissolved, stirring gently.
  2. Set aside and let cool to room temperature.
  3. Add lemon juice and vanilla and stir again.
  4. Wash cherries, leaving on the stems.
  5. Pit the cherries.
  6. Add the cinnamon, allspice and almond extract to each jar.
  7. Fill your jar with the pitted cherries, leaving a 3/4 inch headspace.
  8. Pack the cherries in tightly without smashing.
  9. Pour in the flavored syrup, leaving a 1/2 inch headspace.
  10. Use a wooden skewer around the edges of the jar to dislodge any bubbles
  11. Wipe the rim and place on the jar lid.
  12. At this point, you can store the cherries in the refrigerator for up to 6 weeks or water bath process them for longer storage. (See below) Just note that the water bath does change their texture a bit. They will darken and get softer.
  13. Either way, the flavor will take at least 3 days to soak into the cherries and then they are ready to eat.

Water Bath Processing: For long-term storage, process the pint-size jar(s) in a boiling water bath for 25 minutes. Adjust for altitude if you are above 1000 feet. Here’s a post explaining why you need to adjust for altitude.

What about you?

Have you ever preserved cherries in liqueur or brandy or some other method?  Tell me in the comments!

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About the Author:

Theresa Loe is the founder of Living Homegrown® and the Canning Academy® and is the Co-Executive Producer & Canning Expert on the national PBS gardening series, Growing A Greener World®. Theresa homesteads on just 1/10th of an acre in Los Angeles with her husband, two teenage boys and several disorderly but totally adorable chickens. Learn more about Living Homegrown here and about the Canning Academy here.