Homemade Cocktail Cherries

Years ago, while celebrating my birthday at a spot in Seattle where a friend was tending bar, the Luxardo cherry entered my life and cocktail cherries have never been the same for me. Old Fashioned's have long been 'my drink', and while I once subscribed to the idea that cherries had no place in one, that tiny little Luxardo gem won me over. 

Neon red, almond flavored, sickeningly sweet, cherries, these are not. The Luxardo cherry tastes (and looks) like a real cherry, with the added complexity of the maraschino flavor from the Luxardo. Perfect in any drink that calls for a cocktail cherry, or even as an ice cream topping, their only downfall is that, at nearly $20 for a 14 ounce jar, there is no room for them in my budget. Good thing I'm not afraid of a little r&d in the kitchen, eh? Affordable version, here we come!  

The key to these is the cherry- a sour cherry. If I lived in Italy, I'd use marasca cherries, like Luxardo does, but sour cherries are the best option in the US. If you don't live somewhere sour cherries grow, you can usually find sour cherries in the frozen fruit section of nicer grocery stores or order them online. Although they don't grow well in Southern California, I lucked out and found fresh ones at a tiny little Armenian market, where I considered buying everything they had in stock.

If you're using fresh cherries, you'll need to pit them. My favorite cherry pitting tool is this little contraption that attaches to any mason jar. It's easy to use and keeps the mess contained, all for under $10.

After pitting, freeze the cherries. I find they absorb more flavor this way, and freezing them also means you can keep some on hand for future cocktail cherries. To flash freeze, arrange cherries, so they're not touching, on a parchment lined baking sheet and place in freezer for about 24 hours. Transfer to container or zipper bag and store in freezer.

When you're ready to make the cocktail cherries, you'll need:

1 pound frozen sour cherries
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water or cherry juice
1 cup Luxardo maraschino liqueur
Juice from 1/2 a lemon
1 tsp vanilla

Combine sugar, water, and lemon juice in medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer, stir and continue to simmer until sugar has dissolved.

Add vanilla, Luxardo, and cherries. Simmer 5 more minutes.

Cool to room temperature. Pour equal parts cherries and liquid into clean jars and refrigerate 3 days before using. Store in refrigerator up to 2 months.

Original recipe, styling, and photography by Danae Horst for Gather and Hunt.