I missed most of last year’s cherry season due to vacation. And after this year’s cherry crop disaster in California and the Northeast, I was afraid my son would face another year with with severely limited cherries. Fortunately, Washington State’s cherry crop was only delayed due to below average temperatures; it was not a total washout. With Bing cherries on sale this week for $2/lb, I bought a full 9-pounds of raw cherries (my maximum capacity based upon the bowls and pots I own). Also I modified my processing this year to reduce the amount of heat exposure to which the cherries undergo during Day 2; my goal being to give a firmer texture without affecting the flavor.
Of course, Royal Anne cherries are traditional for Maraschino cherries. Their very light color makes them a perfect blank slate so that the artificial dye can gives them their classic neon red. But I use Bing cherries because they are a fraction of the price. When there’s a bumper crop cherries can on sale for as little as $1/lb, so making twenty pounds of Maraschino Cherries (and juice) only costs $12. This year they cost about $23.
- Depending upon what part of the country you pickling salt may be available. It does not contain iodine or anti-caking agents. But because I live just outside of NYC, I can only get Kosher salt. Be sure to check the ingredient list to verify that it only contains salt. The anit-caking agents will cause your syrup to be cloudy. If you use pickling salt you will need to alter the amount, because kosher salt is less dense.
- During the pitting process I lined my counter with 3-foot strips of plastic wrap, which made clean up very easy.
- If you don’t have a cherry pitter, they cost under $10, but there are numerous do-it-yourself cherry pitters on the web; e.g. here, here and here.
- Some online recipes call for using Alum, e.g. here and here. It is sometime used to help keep the cherries crisp. But I do not recommend using it because it is toxic to human in “large” quantities; large being just 1 ounce.
- Some of our favorite things to make with the cherry juice are: Shirley Temples (using Cherry juice in lieu of Grenadine), Malibu Bay Breeze, and added to Sangria in lieu of 1/4 cup of sugar.
Rating: 5 stars.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess? Large.
Start time Friday Evening. Ready at: Sunday Morning
Nine Pounds Raw Cherries:
4 quarts water (Friday PM)
1/2 cup kosher salt, not table salt!
12 cups sugar (6 pounds)
3-1/2 cups cold water (Saturday AM)
juice of 3 regular lemon
1/2 ounce red food coloring
2-1/2 teaspoon almond extract (Sunday AM)
Yields: 12 to 14 pint jars
FRIDAY PM – The Pickling Process. (Takes 2 hour.)
- Bring kosher salt (or pickling salt, but never table salt) and the 4 quarts of water to a boil; about 10 minutes. Stir until salt is dissolved.
- Wear an apron or old clothes. Wash, stem and remove seeds using a cherry pitter, immediately placing into cold water. (8 to 9 minutes per lb).
- Drain cherries into large bowl, then pour pickling solution over your pitted cherries.
- Put a plate to weight down the cherries to prevent them from floating above water line.
- Cover with plastic wrap; Allow to cool for an hour then refrigerate for 12 hours or overnight.
SATURDAY AM – Marinating the Cherries. (Takes about 45 minutes)
- The next day, drain the cherries and throw away the brine. Use the plate (that held down the cherries all night) to hold back the cherries while you dump the water.
- Rinse cherries thoroughly by means of repeated cold water baths. Rinse at least 7 or 8 times. Set cherries aside for the time being.
- In a large pot, combine 6-pounds sugar and the 3-1/2 cups of cold water.
- Bring to a boil and stir until the sugar is dissolved. (10 to 12 minutes)
- Pour the hot sugar mixture over the cherries.
- Add lemon juice and (optional) red food coloring; gently mix to incorporate. I must warn you that if you taste the cherries now you will be afraid that you’ve ruined them with salt. But don’t worry; it’ll all work out in the end.
- Cover with plastic wrap; Allow to cool at room temperature for an hour then refrigerate for 24 hours, stirring from time to time.
SUNDAY AM – Preserving Process. (Takes about 1-1/2 hours.)
- Run 12 pint jars and lid bands through dishwasher utilizing the heated dry-cycle (at least 60 minutes), and after about 30 minutes bring a large pot of water to boil (for preparing loaded jars).
- In a separate shallow pan, heat lid inserts in simmering water (180-degrees) until ready for use. Do not boil or they will not seal properly.
- Drain the juices into a large empty pot; setting drained cherries aside.
- Cook the juices, uncovered, until just reaches a boil (about 10 minutes). BE CAREFUL: the juices will bubble over quickly. I’d recommend a thermometer with the alarm set to 200-degrees.
- Turn off heat, add cherries immediately. Add almond extract and gently stir for 2 minutes (to remove air).
- Pour or ladle the boiling hot fruit and juice directly into the prepared pint jars, only filling 1/2 to 2/3rds with fruit.
- Stir with non-metallic spoon or gently shake to remove air bubble. Fill to 1/8″ of brim with more juice. Wipe the brim clean to ensure a good seal.
- Seal the jars by place heated lid insert onto jar, holding down in the center while tightening lid ring.
- In large pot of boiling water, carefully load the sealed jars. Use a jar lifter, or combination of tongs and large spoon.
- Add water if needed to a level of 1 inch above jars and cover pot.
- When water boils vigorously (about 10 minutes), lower heat to maintain a gentle boil and process for recommended time: 20 minutes for pint jars, and 25 minutes for quart jar (adjust for altitude).
SUNDAY AFTERNOON – Wrap up. (5 minutes)
- When cooled check for seal integrity by pressing top; should not move up or down. (all my seals were fine)
- Store for up to 1 year. Write date and contents on lid to avoid any confusion.