Each summer, for a short window, orchards positively drip with ripe sweet cherries - blushing yellow Raniers and Bings such a dark maroon they almost look black. If you're blessed with an abundance, take the time to make homemade brandied cherries.
These boozy, fragrant, vibrantly fruity cherries add flavor to homemade cocktails and drinks. And their flavor only improves with time, so make them this summer and tuck them into a cupboard until Christmas time arrives.
What are brandied cherries?
Brandied cherries are boozy, sweetened fruits that you make by soaking fresh cherries in a combination of rich syrup and brandy. They taste richly sweet, delightfully alcoholic and, like homemade root beer, are a hallmark of authentic, early American cookery.
At their simplest, Brandied Cherries need only a handful of ingredients: cherries, brandy and sugar. And most early American recipes call only for those simplest ingredients. You can also add spices, if you like. Vanilla pairs particularly nicely with cherries.
Soaking fruit in sweetened alcohol was a popular way of preserving cherries, peaches and other stone fruit before refrigeration and water bath canning became widespread.
Making Brandied Cherries
To make brandied cherries, you'll begin first by trimming the stem of cherries or removing them completely. Next, prepare a rich syrup with sugar and water. Simmer the cherries in the syrup for a few minutes, and then transfer them to a jar. Whisk the syrup with brandy, and then pour it over the cherries and seal the jar.
Before you make your first batch, there's a few helpful tips to keep in mind:
- Select only the ripest, best fruit. Blemished fruit, over-ripe or under-ripe fruit make for poor preserves.
- Trim the stem. Most early American recipes call for keeping the stem on the cherry and trimming it short.
- Prick the cherries once with a toothpick. You'll simmer the cherries for a few minutes in a hot rich sugar syrup, and pricking them should prevent them from bursting.
- Try substituting cherry juice for water. While not an authentic ingredient, it can amplify the flavor of your brandied cherries.
- Keep the sugar content high. It's tempting to cut the sugar in the recipe (who needs more sugar, right?), but sugar acts as a preservative in this recipe - just like alcohol.
How Should You Store the Cherries?
Traditionally, cherries were preserved in brandy in the summer and stored at room temperature or in root cellars until winter. The high sugar content and the high alcohol content helped to preserve the foods and keep them safe.
By contrast to traditionalists, modern preservers often use less sugar and recommend storing brandied cherries in the fridge or canning them in a water bath for about 10 minutes, increasing that time at higher elevations.
Brandied Cherries Recipe
- Trim the stems of the cherries to about ¼ inch, or remove them entirely. Then pierce each cherry once with a toothpick to prevent splitting.
- Warm the water and sugar together in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Whisk constantly until the sugar fully dissolves. Drop in the cherries and vanilla bean, and simmer them in the hot syrup about 2 minutes.
- Strain the cherries, and reserve the syrup. Place the cherries and vanilla bean in a jar, and allow the syrup to cool to room temperature.
- Whisk the room-temperature syrup with brandy, and pour it over the cherries. Seal the jar, and place it in a cool, dark cupboard or store it in the fridge. Allow the cherries to age at least six weeks before serving, and shake the jar periodically.
You can add brandied cherries to cocktails like Manhattans, or sip the cherry liqueur on its own. I also like to add a shot of the liqueur and a cherry or two to homemade kombucha, and it's also nice added to cherry water kefir. You can also use the cherries to garnish desserts, in crêpes, or eat them on their own.