Homemade Maraschino Cherries {DIY Cocktail Cherries}

Homemade Maraschino Cherries | Will Cook For Friends

There are very few time when I am really, truly glad to live in Michigan, with its bitter winters and humid summers, but cherry season is one I am smitten with.

The trouble with fresh Michigan cherries is, I never, ever make anything with them. No sooner does a bag of cherries enter my house, and I’ve eaten every last one.

I have this nostalgic memory of standing on the front porch of my parent’s house spitting cherry pits over the railing. While other kids were having watermelon seed spitting competitions, my brother and I had our cherries.

Nowadays, I stand in my kitchen, spitting pits directly into the trash bin. Less glamorous, for sure, but no less wonderful. It’s pretty much what I always hoped being a grown-up would be like.

Homemade Maraschino Cherries | Will Cook For Friends

As some of you may remember, I shared this post last year, all about store-bought maraschino cherries and how they’re made. What I wanted to know then was how such an abomination of nature could ever become so popular. What I found out was, before prohibition, maraschino cherries were simply cherries preserved in maraschino liqueur (an alcohol made from the juice of marasca cherries and their crushed, almond flavored pits). After prohibition, the alcohol was replaced with a process of bleaching, dying, chemically preserving, and otherwise robbing the cherries of anything that might once have been considered good or natural.

How this stuck around after prohibition ended, I will never understand.

Ever since writing about store-bought maraschino cherries, I have held a promise to myself that I would make my own, homemade maraschino cherries. Just as soon as cherry season rolled around. Which it has.

(Actually, cherry season is close to an end, now, but when I started these cherries in their boozy bath a few weeks ago, it was in full swing. Grab your cherries quick, before their gone!)

Homemade Maraschino Cherries | Will Cook For Friends

There are only two ingredients you need in order to get started. Let’s talk about them.

Originally, maraschino cherries were made from marasca cherries (a variety of cherry native to Croatia). Sour cherries are a popular alternative, but really, when it comes to making your own, you can use whatever variety you like. I went with sweet cherries, just because they’re a favorite of mine for snacking on. Mm, cherries…

Also, and perhaps more obviously, maraschino cherries are made with maraschino liqueur. However, this, too, is not set in stone. To be honest, you can make them with whatever kind of liqueur you like. Brandy would work nicely, as would bourbon, or rum, or grand marnier, or amaretto, or kirsch… the list goes on. In fact, I recommend using a liqueur you are familiar with and know you enjoy (if you’ve never had maraschino liqueur, you might be surprised by its potent cherry/almond flavor). At this point you should stick to calling them “cocktail cherries” instead of “marashino cherries”, but they’ll still be super delicious.

Now, that’s all you need, but the possibilities for variation don’t end there. Pick your cherries, pick your liqueur… then pick whether you want them sweet (a little sugar can be added to take the edge of the liqueur, or a lot of sugar can be added to make them sweet and syrupy), or flavored with other things (like whole spices — I added some clove, star anise, and cinnamon to one of my jars). Play around with different combinations to find what you like best.

Cherry Pitting

One thing you are definitely going to need for this is a cherry pitter. Yes, I made a gif to show you how bad-ass a cherry pitter is. If you’ve ever tried to pit a cherry by hand, you’ll understand. A cherry pitter is your best friend here, A., because it means you won’t have pits in your cherries (duh), and B., because the liqueur will infuse the cherries much faster if they’re hollow.

This was my first time using a cherry pitter, and I was pretty geeked. Best kitchen appliance purchase I’ve made for a while.

Once the cherries are pitted, they’re placed in a (thoroughly cleaned) jar, and steaming hot liqueur is poured over them. Then they’re sealed, and left to sit in the fridge for at least two weeks before being dunked into your next cocktail. The longer they sit, the better they get.

Homemade Maraschino Cherries | Will Cook For Friends

Homemade Maraschino Cherries | Will Cook For Friends

I’ve read a lot of recipes in preparation for my first batch of cherries, and some people will tell you the cherries will be ready to eat in 2-3 days. I tasted mine two days in, then five days, then seven days… and found that the harshness from the liqueur didn’t start to mellow until closer to two weeks. You can certainly taste yours before then and see what you think, but the longer you wait the more the flavors will marry, and the smoother the alcohol will get.

For my first batch, I made them a few different ways: one with just cherries and liqueur; one with cherries, liqueur, and sugar; and one with cherries, liqueur, sugar, and spices. I used maraschino liqueur in all cases, just to stay traditional in that regard, but as I said earlier, I encourage you to play around with different liqueurs and see what you like.

For my personal taste, I preferred the cherries made with sugar. It mellowed the alcohol, and also made them a little closer to the sweet, candied cherries I’ve become so accustomed to.

Let’s do a little comparison, shall we?

Homemade Maraschino Cherries | Will Cook For Friends

Luxardo is one of the only commercial brands left that makes maraschino cherries even close to the way they once where. They are still a far cry from the true, original, booze-drenched cherries they started as, packed instead in a thick syrup of marasca cherry juice and sugar, but they are also a whole lot better than the soulless red orbs floating in corn syrup and food coloring most of us grew up with.

If you’re looking for an addictively sweet, more-like-candy store-bought alternative, Luxardo fits the bill. Unfortunately, it also breaks the bank at around $15 a jar.

Homemade cherries, on the other hand, can be made to taste, and come in at less than half the cost (give or take, depending on the price of the cherries).

Now, if only I could get my hands on some marasca cherry juice, I’d be all set. In the Luxardo cherries, it adds a noticeable pop of cherry flavor. Instead, I decided to make a jar with a little tart cherry juice concentrate added, and found this provided that boost of flavor nicely, as well as turned the syrup a deep shade of red. It isn’t a necessary addition, by any means, but definitely one I will stick with in the future.

Homemade Maraschino Cherries | Will Cook For Friends

This is one of my jars after two weeks in the fridge. As you can see, there are already some cherries missing… not sure how that happened… *cough* i ate them *cough*.

Have you ever made cocktail cherries? Let me know in the comments below. (And, if you’ve never made them before, then you should really get on that. Did I mention cherry season is almost over?)

5.0 from 2 reviews
Homemade Maraschino Cherries {DIY Cocktail Cherries}
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 pint cherries (sweet or sour)
  • 1 cup maraschino liqueur (or other liqueur, such as brandy, bourbon, grand marnier, amaretto, rum, etc....)
Optional:
  • ½ - 1½ cups granulated sugar (1/2 cup is just enough to take the edge of the alcohol and make a lightly sweet cherry, while 1½ cups will make a sweet, syrupy cherry -- play around to find what you like best.)
  • 2-3 TBSP 100% tart cherry juice concentrate (this adds a boost of cherry flavor, and gives the syrup a deep red hue)
  • Whole spices, to taste (whole clove, star anise, cinnamon, black peppercorns, or strips of orange zest are all possibilities -- add these to the jar with the cherries, but don't let them steep too long. I recommend removing them after 5-7 days to prevent the flavor from becoming too strong.)
Instructions
  1. Wash and pit all the cherries. You can leave the stems on, as I did, or remove them.
  2. Place the cherries in a thoroughly cleaned, tightly lidded jar. (Don't overfill your jar like I did -- leave enough room for the alcohol to cover the cherries completely, without spilling over when you close the lid. If you pack the jar too full, and the alcohol doesn't cover them all, be sure to give the jar a flip upside down every few days to ensure the cherries get drunk evenly.)
  3. Add the liqueur to a small saucepan, and place over medium heat. (If you're using sugar, add the sugar to the pot along with the liqueur.) Bring to a simmer, then remove from the heat. (Stir in the tart cherry juice concentrate, if using).
  4. Pour the hot liqueur over the cherries in the jar, and close the lid. Let cool to room temperature, then place in the fridge and let sit for a minimum of two weeks. The cherries should keep for at least several months, and the flavor will get better with age.
Notes
Use wherever maraschino cherries are called for (perfect for manhattan's and pina coladas). Or atop vanilla ice cream. Or eat them straight out of the jar. Or, you could hang out here and wait for my next blog post, in which I'll be making some boozy cherry limeade using these babies. Just sayin'.

 

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20 Responses to Homemade Maraschino Cherries {DIY Cocktail Cherries}

  1. shannon August 9, 2014 at 7:46 pm #

    this is perfect, mostly because i haven’t been able to truly look a store-bought maraschino cherry in the face since you did that post last year. I knew they were bad prior to that, but with it all in black and white like that…ugh. Secretly, i love those dang things; i know that’s totally gross but i do, but it’s the love i have for things like ding-dongs and hostess pies. Embarrassing love.

    I can’t wait to try these! and thanks to you all, the cherries we’re getting in our stores are magnificent! i’m not sure what you’re doing to the soil up there, but they are particularly gorgeous this year, so thank you for that, Michigan! :) I’ve been eating cherries at night for my nighttime snack recently: better than chocolate chips (for me). :)

  2. movita beaucoup August 10, 2014 at 8:01 am #

    Shannon said everything I wanted to say. Everything.

  3. Gigi Holcombe August 10, 2014 at 2:51 pm #

    I can’t wait to try this

  4. Erin | The Law Student's Wife August 11, 2014 at 10:59 pm #

    Love how in-depth you took this! You are a true cherry lover, and I only respect you the more.

  5. Jennie @themessybakerblog August 12, 2014 at 8:08 pm #

    I will never touch another jar of store-bought maraschino cherries again. Ewww, gross! I’m off to buy yet another bag (hopefully, I can refrain from eating the entire bag) of cherries so I can make my own. Great post!

  6. Barbara | Creative Culinary August 16, 2014 at 10:55 am #

    I have made them and have a batch going right now even! I’ve tried a couple of ways but this is the easiest and works…so I stick with it too. I did find a great cherry pitter that pits much faster than the single one you use…except for these! If you want the stem you have to do it your way, my pitter is best if used for jars of cherries without stems.

    • Willow August 17, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

      I’ve seen those pitters, the ones that do a bunch at a time? They look great. I actually had to run around to like, five different stores before finding the one I used in this post, but I’m really happy with it. It definitely slows you down a bit if you’re doing a lot of cherries, but I like being able to leave the stems on. :)

  7. Jeff August 17, 2014 at 9:46 pm #

    I often use port wine for mine and have been known to keep them in the fridge in excess of 5 years, adding more cherries and port as needed. The liquor also makes a great addition to a boxed chocolate cake mix in place of part of the water, particularly when used for Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte.

    • Willow August 18, 2014 at 11:24 am #

      Sounds delish! I suspected they would last years, but since I hadn’t tried it first hand I wasn’t sure. I think I’d have to make an awfully big batch for them to last that long, anyway. ;)

  8. mimi August 19, 2014 at 1:12 pm #

    I never really thought about how M cherries came about. Is there a way to make them without the M liqueur? I bought that stuff once and wow it is strong. I finally had to use it in a christmas punch to get rid of it. and that Luxardo brand is fabulous…..

    • Willow August 19, 2014 at 1:29 pm #

      Absolutely, these can be made with just about any kind of liqueur you like. I listed a few in the recipe that I thought would be good (brandy, bourbon, dark rum, amaretto, grand marnier etc.) Maraschino liqueur is definitely strong, and not everyone’s cup of tea, so I can understand that. Those luxardo brand cherries are fabulous, aren’t they? They’re a lot sweeter than this homemade version, though — if you want a sweeter cherry, I suggest using the highest amount of sugar indicated in the recipe (maybe even more, depending on your tastes), and adding a few TBSP of tart cherry juice concentrate for that extra boost of cherry flavor. Hope that helps!

      • Willow August 19, 2014 at 1:30 pm #

        Come to think of it, another commenter mentioned using port wine in his cherries, which is a great idea, too, if you prefer that to liqueur. Just make sure it’s a fortified wine, so it doesn’t go bad.

  9. Jeff Bannow August 24, 2014 at 3:05 pm #

    Just put up 4 pints of tart cherries – 2 with 1 cup Luxardo to 1 cup sugar (plus cherry concentrate and some orange zest), 1 with straight Luxardo, and 1 with straight Johnnie Walker Red.

    Manhattan’s, here I come!

    • Willow August 25, 2014 at 10:28 am #

      YUM. That sounds awesome! I’d love to know how the Johnie Walker Red’s turn out. :)

  10. Erica K December 22, 2015 at 11:47 am #

    Even though this is an old post, I just want to say it’s perfect! I’ve just read like 6 different recipes/articles about making homemade maraschino cherries and this has been the best one! You explain all the differences and possibilities give the best recipe [which is the one i have been looking for!] THANKS!
    ps- i have also heard about using a bit of pomegranate juice in them as well for flavor [instead of cherry juice].

    • Willow Arlen December 22, 2015 at 11:51 am #

      Thanks, Erica! So glad it was helpful. Using pomegranate juice is a great idea!

  11. Kasper May 26, 2016 at 4:05 pm #

    I’m curious, why heat the liquor? At 172 degrees the alcohol starts to evaporate and you no longer have “boozie” cherries, just flavored ones. Unless that’s your goal.

    In the past I’ve always dumped the high fructose corn syrup from the store-bought cherries and replaced the liquid with bourbon or amaretto & have jars of different ones for use with specific drinks. Adding Kirsch is my next experiment. But after reading your Maraschino Massacre story (great pic, btw!), I think I’m done with those things and will be making my own from now on. If for nothing else than to have a reason to buy and use that pitter!

    • Willow Arlen May 27, 2016 at 1:09 pm #

      Hey Kasper! The hot liqueur helps soften the cherries just slightly, and permeates them faster than cold alcohol would. It also dissolves the sugar if you choose to use any. Heating the liqueur will begin to evaporate some of the alcohol, but very little is burned off by bringing it to a quick simmer. If you prefer to make your cherries without heating the liqueur, I’m sure it will still work, it just may take longer for them to develop flavor and mellow out how you’d like. I hope that helps!

  12. Reynada June 12, 2017 at 12:49 pm #

    Is there a way to make this for kids “no alcohol?”

    • Willow Arlen June 12, 2017 at 4:23 pm #

      Hi Reynada,

      I’m certain there is a way to preserve cherries in sugar without the alcohol, but I haven’t done that myself. I’d try googling “homemade luxardo cherries” to start — luxardo is a brand of (alcohol-free) maraschino cherries that’s really delicious, but expensive. I’m sure there are some great homemade options out there!

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