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 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.
2 quarts fresh cherries, sweet or sour
About a quart and a little more of dark brandy or armagnac
1 ½ cups organic white sugar
A small vanilla bean, split
3 star anise pods & 4 whole cloves
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.
Place the sugar and a cup of the brandy in a saucepan, bring to a boil, and simmer for a few minutes, until all the sugar has dissolved. Set aside to cool, and add the spices, reserving the vanilla pod.
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 still have something to hold on to. Pack the jar fairly tightly. I like to arrange the cinnamon stick on the side because it looks pretty! Cut the vanilla bean in half and tuck a slice in each side.
Mix the cooled, spiced syrup with the rest of the brandy, and cover the cherries with it. Use a chop stick to move the cherries around a bit to release any air pockets. Wipe the rim with a clean tea towel or paper towel, and seal. Turn the jar over a few times to mix things up, put a label on it, and contemplate the virtue of patience.
Place in a dark, cool spot for at least six months or so. 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.
Notes:if you plan to make a big batch, figure on a little more than six pounds of cherries and 2 litres of spirits to make around12 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 a lot of their color and a bit of their flavor, but the brandy will be heavenly.