Homemade Maraschino Cherries Are Easier Than You Think

I decided to try out a recipe for homemade Maraschino cherries for my summer beverage and dessert enjoyment. I’m not a fan of supermarket Maraschinos, but love having them with lemonade and soda. The store bought variety are brined until they are colorless and put in red colored syrup. Originally, Maraschino cherries were brined in grenadine syrup. I wanted to make some ‘real’ Maraschino cherries, so I started some research.

What’s Maraschino Syrup?
The grenadine most people buy is just red food coloring and corn syrup, masquerading as real grenadine, which is made from pomegranate juice. I’ve made grenadine before, and if you’re so inclined, I highly recommend giving it a try for tasty results. Because it uses a lot of pomegranate juice and spices, it adds a unique flavor to things. I’ve included a recipe below, adapted from one at The Cupcake Project. Another part of the appeal for me is the inclusion of citrus and anise, a spice I don’t use very often but really enjoy. It added a slight licorice smell to the final product.

Pitting Cherries Super-Simple
I bought 5 pounds of red cherries from my local grocery: 2.5 pounds for this recipe, and 2.5 pounds for my own consumption. May and June is prime cherry season and these were very sweet and perfectly ripe. The hardest part about pitting all the cherries was not eating them all!

Simple, easy to use Freestanding Cherry Pitter

The Freestanding Cherry Pitter is available at Lehmans.com or at Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio.

The pitter I used is the Freestanding Cherry Pitter, and I have to say, I’m a fan. My pitter came from Lehman’s, and I was pleased to try it out for my maraschino cherry recipe, and to share how it worked for me–which was well!

The pitter has a spring loaded rod that you push down into the cherry. It pushes the pit out, through a rubber gasket (it comes with two) and pulls the cherry up and off the rod. The cherries come out virtually intact, and still looking like the fruit should.

I found that softer cherries didn’t always come up on the final stroke or pop off when they should.

Pitting cherries

Top view of pitting cherries–the ones in the bowl are done, and gorgeous!

Also, I didn’t remove the stems on all the cherries, and the stems occasionally would get stuck in the grooves of the metal rod. This happened very infrequently, and all it required was a quick finger prod and I could continue my work. Removing stems is probably a good idea.

This is a gravity fed system, and most of the time this worked. I don’t know if it was because I had stems on some of the cherries, or because my cherries were a bit larger than the machine was designed for, but the cherries would get stuck fairly often.

Again, not huge inconvenience, but it did slow things down slightly. However, the time saved by using the Freestanding Cherry Pitter instead of the hand pitter I’d borrowed from my mother completely makes up for the slight hassle. If you were going to be pitting much more than what I did, I’d probably suggest a more industrial model, but this was perfect for my job.

Clean up went very quickly. The white top pops off and the rod detaches as well (I had to use pliers to get the little clips to unhook, but I admittedly have very weak fingers).

All the cherry pits land in the bottom of the pitter for easy disposal.

All the cherry pits land in the bottom of the pitter for easy disposal.

Disposal of the pits is very easy, one sharp rap on the side of the trash can and they dumped out. The little gasket comes out to allow for easy cleaning as well.

My one complaint is about cleaning the inside of the rod’s track. There are grooves on the inside of the plastic track the rod operates in, and even after letting it soak for awhile, there is definitely still cherry inside. I plan on getting something like a skewer to pick it out, but it would certainly be nice to not have to do that when everything else about the pitter is pretty easy to clean.

Fresh ingredients make a great maraschino syrup. It is worth the time to do it yourself.

Making The Maraschino Syrup
Forty-five minutes later, all 5 pounds of cherries were pitted and I was ready to begin making the syrup. I doubled the recipe found on Cupcake Project to make it for about 2.5 pounds, but decided to do this after buying my spices. Basically, this means I doubled the fluid, but not the orange peel or star anise.

First, I made simple syrup with:
3 cups of water
1 cup of pomegranate juice (Pom brand, the easiest to find)
4 juiced lemons
2 cups of sugar
star anise (whole)
orange peel

Making grenadine syrup.

The grenadine syrup simmering in large stockpot.

In a large saucepan, I combined everything except the star anise and orange peel. I stirred until the sugar dissolved. Once the sugar was dissolved, I added the orange peel, one whole piece of star anise and let come to a boil.

Once boiling, I brought the heat down a little and added the cherries. I left this to simmer, stirring occasionally, for ten minutes.

After ten minutes, the syrup tasted of cherries (and was delicious) and the cherries looked a little soggy. This is a good thing, since that means they’d soaked up some of the citrusy sweet goodness. I poured the mixture into a large bowl, and let it cool. I was glad to see that it turned out all right, as I thought being short on spices would be a problem.

Be warned: The sugar-based syrup is very hot, and make sure what you’re pouring the syrup into is big enough to hold everything. I overflowed my bowl before all the syrup was out of the pot, and had to dump a little off the top so I could move the bowl out of the sink. Use caution, and avoid getting it on you or your clothing. It will burn you.

Packing Cherries Into Jars

Proganics® hand-held fine mesh strainer

Available in 2 sizes, the handled Proganics® Mesh Strainer is available at Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio, and at Lehman’s.com.

After cooling for about a half hour, I used a hand-held strainer (though you could probably use a slotted spoon) to drain and transfer the cherries into three clean pint jars.

After packing the jars, I poured the syrup over the cherries until the jars were very close to full. Even after this, I was left with a full jar of syrup. Not one to let a delicious thing go to waste, I saved this too. (It was a delicious addition to soda, especially Coke.)

I closed the jars with standard lids and bands.  Once the jars were a bit cooler to the touch, I closed them up and put them in the refrigerator.

Give your cherries as gifts:  limited edition green pint and quart jars from Ball are in stock now at Lehmans

Give your cherries as gifts: use nifty limited edition green pint and quart jars from Ball!  In stock now at Lehmans.com

Ideally, these cherries would be canned and stored for later use, but since I have an apartment-sized kitchen and would be using these jars relatively soon, I decided to forgo this step. I will say though, these turned out pretty well, and I will most likely make more soon and can those. Hopefully, I can borrow someone’s full-sized kitchen.

All things considered, whole process took about an hour and a half. Like I said above, a cherry pitter will really move things along. The finished cherries have to soak for a few days at least, but the end result were some very yummy maraschino cherries, and taste much better than the candy-red monstrosities you buy at the supermarket.

If you wanted to, these could be dyed red to give them the more “traditional” look, but I like the dark red of these cherries. If you were to use Rainer instead of the darker variety, I think a little bit of food coloring would be more effective . However, the pomegranate juice gives the syrup a very rich, dark color all on its own.

A word of warning
I opened up a jar that was forgotten in the refrigerator about two months after making the cherries, and they had fermented. The syrup had carbonation and I decided for scientific purposes to try one of the cherries. It was almost a champagne-like fizz and flavor, but I wouldn’t recommend letting your cherries go. I’m not sure what caused the cherries to go off and the situation could have ended much more poorly.

 

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