These treasures will delight all year long
Make these when local cherries are ripe but firm and beautifully colored. If you can get them, try using a mix of sour and sweet cherries, but you can use what you like or can find. A cherry is one of the perfect fruits of this planet, especially if suspended in a wonderful spirit. But, please don’t do this in the middle of winter with imported cherries that have traveled an ocean and have no flavor! And always look for local, organic first. Your neighbor’s neglected tree is perfect, but you will have to be quick to beat the birds.
I don’t know whether I like the cherries best or the deep, burgundy colored, cherry flavored liquor that is created in the process; they are inseparable to me. These cherries need to work in the spirits for many months, in fact I wouldn’t even think of tasting them until Christmas. The next Christmas, even better. They only improve with time, and will keep for years if stored in a cool, dark place.
When they are ready, place a cherry in the bottom of a flute and add a little of the cherry brandy. Fill with champagne! Put a little bit over ice cream or pound cake for a very special treat, or take out your best ornate cordial glasses, add some of the fine, newly flavored liquor and a cherry at the bottom of the glass. You can use brandy or cognac, depending on the dryness you prefer. You can change out the ratio and type of spices used, it is about what you like best. Patience here is one of the best ingredients.
However you make them, they are a wonderful addition to the pantry or treasured gift from your kitchen, and they are fun to make. Easy too, but don’t tell anyone. Let them just think it is sultry magic.
The measurements do not need to be exact with this recipe. You can use just white sugar if you like, or omit the sugar altogether!
- 2 lbs. or so fresh cherries, sweet or sour
- 750 ml. dark brandy, cognac, or armagnac
- 1 cup superfine organic white sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- A small vanilla bean, split
- 3 star anise pods, 4 whole cloves, 6 black peppercorns
- 1 cinnamon stick & 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 pinch salt
Prepare a two-quart canning jar and its lid by boiling for five minutes or running through the dishwasher. Set aside.
Pick over the fruit and choose only the most firm, bruise-free cherries. Make them the best. Remove any deformed or dried up stems, and trim back the rest to about an inch so you want something to hold on to.
Place a couple of layers of cherries in the bottom of your jar. Mix the two sugars together and sprinkle over a little along with a pinch of cinnamon.
Add another couple of layers and insert your vanilla bean and a cinnamon stick along with a star anise and a couple of cloves. Keep building layers of cherries, sugar, cinnamon, and the last two star anise in different layers. Once you make it to the top, add the last two cloves and a pinch of salt, then pour any unused sugars over the top.
Add the brandy and use a long chop stick to gently move the fruit around to release any air bubbles. Check that the brandy is over the fruit. The fruit will float at first, but if you push with the chopstick the level of brandy would be more.
Wipe the rim, seal the jar, and give it a gently back and forth shake to begin dissolving the sugar.
Place in a dark, cool spot for at least four months or so. I make these cherries every year in July and don’t even think about using them until December. Most of them become gifts. Remember, this is about patience, you will be rewarded. Once a week for a month, turn the jar over a few times, and then once in a while as you remember, and remember you will, because you will be checking on them. These cherries have a way of staying on your mind. It doesn’t take long for this liquor to become deep burgundy in color, sweet and thick and cherry flavored.
Variations: I’ve made these with just sour cherries, or just sweet. I love the sour cherries with cognac and fennel seed. Play with the spicy flavors you like. If you are not fond of the sweet syrup, you don’t even really need to any sugar, just preserve the cherries in the brandy.
Notes:if you plan to make a big batch, figure on a little more than six pounds of cherries and 2 liters of spirits to make around 12 pints.
As the cherries set, more of their flavor and color gets transferred to the brandy, ultimately making it a deep wine color. After a couple of years, the cherries will lose some of their color, but the brandy will be heavenly.