Although we have encountered maraschino cherries most of our lives—from the "cherry on top" of the sundae to the garnish in a Manhattan cocktail—we may not have thought much about them, like how they get to be that artificial red color. The fact is, commercial maraschino cherries are loaded with chemicals; the light-colored cherries are first bleached and brined and then soaked in a bright red dye. Even though most of us don't eat maraschino cherries by the handful and often have just one at a time, knowing how much processing is done to produce them makes these cherries quite unappealing.
Luckily, we can make our own at home with this recipe. As with any canning project, it will take some time, mostly standing time, but the effort is well worth it.
To make the brine, bring water and pickling salt to a boil, stirring until salt is dissolved. Let cool for 10 minutes, then pour over pitted sweet cherries. Cover and let sit 12 hours or overnight.
Drain cherries, discarding brine, and rinse in cold water. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, water, lemon juice, and red food coloring, if using. Bring just to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar, and remove from heat. Pour over cherries, cover, and let stand for 24 hours.
Drain cherries, reserving juice. Set cherries aside. Bring reserved juice to a boil again. Remove from heat and stir in almond extract. Pour juice over cherries.
Pack cherries with juice in hot sterilized jars and seal according to manufacturer's recommendations. Place in a water bath canner and process 20 minutes for pint jars or 25 minutes for quart jars.
- Make sure to select sweet cherries (as opposed to sour) for this recipe. Look for fruit that is heart-shaped with a firm flesh and dark red to almost black in color. Bing, Lambert, Royal Ann, and Tartarian varieties work best.
- If you can't find pitted cherries, pit them yourself. (Make sure to wear an apron.) To do so, place one cherry on a cutting board and press it down hard with the side of a large chef's knife—the pit should pop out. To keep a round shape, push a straw or the large end of a chopstick through the cherry from the stem-side until the pit pops out. A cherry pitter simplifies this process.