I have two early memories of maraschino cherries. My first knowledge of them was in hot fudge sundaes, of course. My parents would buy jars of them to make ice cream sundaes at home, and I learned early on that tipping a bit of the red syrupy liquid from the jar into a glass of Coca-Cola with ice was an illicit, seemingly-sophisticated drink.
My other memory is only a little less innocent: When I was about eleven, I had a little friend whose family owned a bar in St. Thomas, in the Virgin Islands. The bar was only moderately successful, so the second story dance floor and function room was very rarely used, though was set up to accommodate large parties at a moments’ notice. We would sneak up to the second floor, above the working bar, and skulk around messing with stuff: we’d put Buster Poindexter’s version of “Hot Hot Hot” on the karaoke machine, rearrange all the water glasses, and, inevitably, eat the contents of the bar’s garnish station, which always included lots of orange slices, cocktail onions (we skipped those), and fire engine red dyed, artificially-sweetened maraschino cherries. They were sickly sweet, and sure to give you a bellyache after you ate about two dozen of them.
You may be surprised to learn, then, that actual maraschino liqueur isn’t some overly sweet, dessert-type booze. It’s actually a super-strong, lip-puckering drink, with strong tastes of alcohol, that is almost undrinkable on its own. Combined with sugar and used as a pickling liquid for pitted cherries, however, it’s a boozy, adult version of the classic sundae topper. And they’re still good in a Coke, or, now that I’m a little older, in a Rob Roy.
Homemade Maraschino Cherries
- 1 cup Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 32 pitted cherries (about 1 1/2 cups)
Remove stems and pits from cherries, and place in a mason jar. Cover in 1/4 granulated sugar, and shake to coat cherries. Let sit at room temperature for about a day. Warm liqueur in a small saucepan until just about to simmer. Pour over cherries and sugar, and shake until sugar dissolves. Let cool before putting lid on jar, and let cherries steep in the refrigerator for about a week before eating.