Although you have likely encountered maraschino cherries most of your life—from the "cherry on top" of the sundae to the garnish in a Manhattan cocktail—you may not have thought much about them, like how they acquired 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, often enjoying just one or two at a time, knowing how much processing they undergo can make these jarred cherries quite unappealing.
Luckily, you can make your own at home in a few steps, starting with a brine and then leaving the cherries to sit in a flavorful syrup. As with any canning project, it does take some time (mostly inactive, standing time), but the effort is well worth it. A jar of homemade maraschino cherries also makes a lovely gift.
Note: While there are multiple steps to this recipe, this maraschino cherries recipe is broken down into workable categories to help you better plan for preparation and cooking.
Brine the Cherries
Gather the ingredients.
Bring the water and pickling salt to a boil in a pot, stirring until the salt is dissolved. Let cool for 10 minutes, then pour over pitted sweet cherries. Cover and let sit 12 hours or overnight.
Drain the cherries, discarding the brine, and rinse in cold water. Place in a bowl and set aside.
Make the Syrup and Soak the Cherries
In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, water, lemon juice, and red food coloring, if using. Bring just to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and remove from the heat.
Pour the liquid over the cherries, cover, and let stand for 24 hours.
Drain the cherries, reserving the juice. Set the cherries aside. Bring reserved juice to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the almond extract, if using.
Pour the warm liquid over the cherries.
Pack the cherries with the juice in clean jars and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
If you wish to can the cherries, pack them into hot, sterilized jars, leaving 1/4- to 1-inch headspace between the top of the cherries and the rim of the jars. 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 firm flesh and dark red to almost black coloring. Bing, Lambert, Royal Ann, and Tartarian varieties work best.
- If you can't find pitted cherries and don't own a cherry pitter, there are a few ways to pit them yourself. (No matter which method you use, make sure to wear an apron.) If you are OK with the cherry being a little smooshed, you can use a knife; place one cherry on a cutting board at a time and press 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 paper clip can also be used to pull out the pit.
What Can I Use Instead of Maraschino Cherries?
Nothing is quite like the flavor of a maraschino cherry, but there are a couple of options for swaps. For drinks and garnishing baked goods, try swapping for brandied and other preserved cherries. For fruit cakes and similar dishes, try swapping a different candied fruit. If the cherry is a drink garnish, consider leaving it off or using a citrus twist instead.