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Wild maraschino cherries

Wild maraschino cherries
Wild maraschino cherries
Wild maraschino cherries

Since the beginning of my involvement with the slow food movement I have been reconnecting with the edible landscape around me and am consistently being amazed by the sheer abundance of nature. My favourite discovery of this summer has to be the wild cherry, a smaller and tarter relation of the popular cultivated variety. When rummaging around the internet for inspiration on what to do with my foraged fruit I stumbled across a recipe for maraschino cherries and decided to investigate.

I wonder what image the words maraschino cherry conjure up in your mind. Perhaps, like me, you are picturing a suspiciously sticky, unpleasantly sickly, lurid red entity, squelched on the edge of a tequila sunrise. This mainstay of disco halls and prawn-cocktail parties seems to have become swallowed in a wave of post-80s regret. However now that spandex, drop-crotch trousers and political instability all seem to be making a comeback, perhaps it is also time to reclaim this much maligned foodstuff and return to its traditional roots.

I spent my weekend laboriously pitting cherries to produce a small trial batch of boozy preserve and three large blisters. I’ll let you know if it was worth the effort. I’ve also obtained a supermarket jar in order to help settle the DIY vs Buy debate.

A bit of background

First things first, lets settle the argument. Mar-a-shee-noh or marr-a-skee-noh?

Short answer: Either is fine
My answer: Marr-a-skee-noh sounds better in a fake Mediterranean accent.

The name maraschino derives from marasca, a Croation variety of sour cherry, similar in taste to the wild variety local to the British Isles. Historically whole marasca cherries were steeped in liqueur made from the same fruit, as a means of preservation. These boozy bonbons proved very popular amongst the bright young things of 19th century Europe. They were basically the avocado toast of their time.

Unfortunately due to the limited supply of marasca cherries and the increased demand for the product the traditional process of making maraschino cherries has been largely lost and nowadays most commercially available ‘cocktail cherries’ are produced by suspending fruit in a solution of sulphur dioxide, calcium chloride, FD&C Red 40 and sugar syrup. Yum.

Usage

Maraschino cherries are served atop stuff; pina coladas, icecream sundaes, parfait etc. Some sadistic individuals have even been known to balance them decoratively on a boiled ham (even the notion!)

The process

  1. Pit your cherries (450g)
  2. Whip up a sugar syrup (60g granulated, 60ml water) and flavour with lemon, spice and love (to taste)*
  3. Soften up your cherries in the syrup and pour the lot into a 350ml sterilised jar
  4. Crack open your bottle of Maraschino.
  5. Top up your jar with maraschino (~120ml). Seal and refrigerate.
  6. Taste your handiwork. Mix yourself another cocktail.

*recommended spices include cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, cloves or anything else that reminds you of Christmas. For forageable alternatives try sweet cicily and hogweed seeds

Is it worth making?

The cost

The cherries and water were free. The sugar, spice and all things nice (lemon) amounted to about 75p. The 120ml of maraschino was the killer, setting me back £5. Still this makes my batch about 1/3 the price of similar alcoholic products, although admittedly that’s double the price of the non-alcoholic sulphuric variety.

The effort

I won’t lie pitting those cherries was a massive pain in the proximal phalanges, hence the small batch size.

The taste

Mine: Om nom nom nom. I’m getting an immediate hit of cherry tartness followed by an almondy warmth from the liqueur. As the taste settles the rich plumy notes and the residual sweetness of the fruit come through. They are kind of small though so you don’t get that nice plump fleshy texture.
Competitor brand: I reach into the jar. I fish out a gelatinous orb and absentmindedly pop it in to my mouth. The firm exterior bursts, releasing a pouch of sugary mush, as I wipe the residue from my fingers in mild disgust. I mean, yes objectively they are foul, but there is something strangely satisfying about them…

The verdict

These are a valuable addition to any cocktail cabinet and despite the enigmatic appeal of the commercial version my jar of wild maraschino cherries is undeniably superior. The time and effort paid off! 8/10. Perhaps I shall use them to festoon a ham after all.

Twitter @foodfromscr_tch

Rebekah Forty


The Slow Food blog is welcoming contributions on the topics of Food, Farming and Agriculture. The contents may not entirely match the views of Slow Food, but reflect the journeys of the authors. To write for us please click here

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