Northwest-grown sweet cherries, with their vibrant flavor and fresh sweetness, make the perfect cherry cordial. Rich with cherries and touched by top notes of cardamom and ginger, this cordial is lovely swirled into sparkling water and served over ice or added to a summer cocktail.
What is cherry cordial?
A cordial is a concentrated sweet drink made with fruit, herbs, and sugar. Accordingly, cherry cordial is made with cherries, and this version finds a boost of flavor from cardamom, ginger, and lemon. Like brandied cherries and noyaux, an extract made from almond and cherry pits, cherry cordial has an old-fashioned sort of charm.
Traditionally, cordials were taken as medicine. Their sweetness made medicinal herbs more pleasant to take. Now, they're primarily drunk less for their medicine and more for their robust, fruit-forward flavor, and the way they can refresh the spirit on hot summer days.
When making a cordial, pick plump Northwest-grown sweet cherries with a deep red color. Their flesh should be firm without hardness, and yield ever-so-slightly when you gently press the fruit between your fingertips. That delicate firmness signals the presence of sweetness, while a rich color brings big flavor.
The Pacific Northwest, known for its temperate climate, grows more cherries than any other region. Early varieties arrive at grocery stores in June, while the season peaks in July and lasts until August. You can freeze or dry cherries to preserve them, but this cordial also keeps well in the fridge or freezer.
Tips for making cherry cordial
Making a cherry cordial is straightforward and simple. There's no need to pit the cherries or remove their stems, and as long as you can put a pot on the stove to boil, you can make this recipe. There's still a few simple steps that you can take to ensure your cordial comes out perfect each time you make it.
- It's okay to use cherries with pits and stems. Since you'll strain the cordial, there's no need to remove the pits or stems.
- Sweeten the cordial after straining. Adding sugar to the boiling fruit may thicken the cordial, so add it only once you've strained the liquid.
- Don't skimp on the sugar. While it's tempting to drop the sugar in this recipe, remember that it acts as a preservative. Lowering the sugar content will lower the shelflife of your cordial.
- Add lemon for flavor (and to preserve the cordial). Most commercial cordials use citric acid to help preserve them, but lemon juice can help extend the life of your cordial to about 6 weeks.
Cherry Cordial Recipe
Prepare the lemon.
- Finely grate the lemon peel into a small bowl, avoiding any bitter white pith. Then slice the lemon in half cross-wise, and then squeeze its juice into a separate bowl. Leave both the finely grated lemon peel and the juice on the countertop while you prepare the other ingredients.
Simmer the cherries.
- Dump the cherries into a large, heavy pot. Next, scoop lemon zest into the pot over the cherries. Drop in the cardamom pods and ginger. Then, pour in the water.
- Bring the ingredients to a boil over medium-high heat, and then immediately turn down the heat to medium-low. Continue simmering the cherries and spices together over medium-low heat for 10 minutes.
Strain the syrup.
- Arrange a fine-mesh sieve over a bowl or wide-mouthed pitcher, and then line it with cheesecloth or butter muslin. Pour the cherries into the lined sieve, allowing the juice flow into the bowl. Press the cherries with a wooden spoon to extract as much juice as you can, and then discard the spent cherries, preserving the juice.
Sweetening the cordial.
- While the juice is still hot, stir in the sugar until it dissolves completely, and then stir in the lemon juice.
Storing the cordial.
- Pour the finished cordial into a jars or flip-top bottles, and seal them. Let it cool to room temperature, and then transfer it to the fridge where it will keep about 6 weeks. Alternatively, freeze the cordial in glass jars (allowing at least 2 inches of head space) up to 6 months.
Serving the cordial.
- Spoon 2 to 4 tablespoons into a glass, and then fill with sparkling water.
Swap honey for sugar. This recipe uses whole, unrefined cane sugar which is a mineral-rich sweetener. You can also substitute honey for sugar, using 1 ½ cups honey in place of 2 cups sugar.
Swap vanilla for cardamom and ginger. Vanilla also blends beautifully with sweet cherries. Instead of using ginger and cardamom, split 2 vanilla beans and add them to the cherries instead.
Blend the cordial with vinegar to make a shrub. Shrubs, like this version that uses raspberries and hibiscus, are sweet-tart drinking vinegars. You can blend the cordial with an equal amount of apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar to make a shrub.
Blend the cordial with brandy or rum. If you add high-proof alcohol to the cordial in equal parts, you can make a delicious cherry eau-de-vie.