If there’s anything that defines a Southern Holiday Meal – it’s colorful flamboyance! We want color, we want drama, we want festivity. We love a sense of the dramatic in our recipes-
- Hot Fruit Compotes or Flaming Cherries Jubilee.
- Pineapple Upside Down Cake may seem ordinary but think of the flourish of turning it out!
- Dare I even mention Homemade Fruitcake glistening with candied cherries on top?
- Adding Dried Cherries to Chocolate Desserts seems sophisticated, but the flavors are old and familiar.
In whatever form, cherries add a special touch to Holiday Dessert Tables. Cherries, while not grown extensively in the South- are beloved; whether candied, brandied, bourboned or bottled, cherries seem to be downright cheerful. Then there are the Boxed Chocolate Covered Cherries- which always seem to appear close to the holidays in roadside stores and fine shops. I like them- in moderation, of course. Okay, I admit it- I also love bright red Maraschino Cherries! Plopped in a tall glass of icy Limeade, topping off an Ice Cream Sundae- Maraschino Cherries are festive and make even the simplest dessert cheerful. Where would Pink Lemonade be without a dose of Maraschino Cherry Syrup? One thing the South can lay claim to is- Cherry Co-Cola.. made famous at drugstore soda fountains, I admit to loving these- why? the clerk always topped it off with a bright red Maraschino Cherry!
The truth is, I’ve never tasted a genuine Maraschino Cherry and chances are neither have you. Genuine Maraschino Cherries are rare and costly- starting at twenty dollars per jar and they aren’t bright red, they’re almost black. The real ones are made from Marasa Cherry Liqueur with Marasa Cherries which have been grown in Luxardo, Italy for decades. What we know as the Iconic Ice Cream topper, Marschino Cherries must be labelled ‘imitation’ because it is a sour cherry soaked in red dye and flavorings to mimic the real deal which no longer contains alcohol, but rather relies on Almond Extract and other Flavorings.
With the Farm to Table movement in full swing, combined with the short growing season for Cherries- methods to preserve and serve has grown. Fine chefs and bartenders began making their own versions of soaked cherries with no red dye or artificial flavorings! The result is amazing. Southerners have been serving Brandied Fruit during the holidays since the 1700’s, using starters, made with fresh fruit, sugar and likker! Bourbon soaked Cherries have become fashionable and are now a specialty food item. I noticed a trend toward handcrafted Maraschino Cherries as a Specialty Food and became intrigued several years ago. Experimenting…to my surprise- a version I call Cheerful Cherries was really good!
To be honest, this was going to be one of those family secret recipes. I topped off my jar recently, honestly it’s too good not to share! Here’s how you make- Camellia’s Cheerful Cherries
- You will need:
- Two 14.5 oz. Cans of Red Tart Cherries- whole pitted packed in water (not syrup)
- 2 cups cane sugar
- The juice of 1 large Lemon which has been stripped of zest- * I use the tool which creates long narrow strips.
- 1-2 whole Star Anise
- 1 whole Cinnamon Stick
- 2 Teaspoons of Pure Almond Extract
- 2 Teaspoons of Pure Vanilla Extract
- 1/2 cup of Brandy
- Drain Cherries, reserving one cup of Liquid.
- Put cherries in a heat proof glass jar, with a cinnamon stick, whole star anise and the strips of lemon zest.
- In a medium saucepan, combine 2 cups of sugar, reserved 1 cup of liquid from cherries, and lemon juice.
- On medium low heat- Cook until all sugar is dissolved, then simmer 3-4 minutes. This is a flavored sugar syrup.
- Cool slightly, then add 2 teaspoons of Pure Almond Extract, 2 teaspoons of Pure Vanilla Extract and 1/2 cup of Brandy.
- Pour flavored sugar syrup into a glass 2 cup measure- *for ease of pouring over the jarred cherries and spices.
- Cover, Let sit for 2-3 days at room temperature. For stronger flavor- refrigerate a week or two before serving. Improves with Age. The cherries will be dark in color- not bright red! Keeps indefinitely in the refrigerator.
- Yield 2 cups.
First of all, anything that improves with age rates high on my list- that’s my personal motto these days! Also, I have used Cherry Brandy which is a good substitute. Amaretto is a liqueur I plan to try, which will eliminate the need for Almond Extract. . These Cheerful Cherries make an excellent Holiday Gift, Tied with a Green Satin Ribbon- beautiful! Also, I’ve had good success draining the cherries very well, covering with Fondant and Dipping in Chocolate- for our version of Chocolate Covered Cheerful Cherries.
*Fresh Cherries may be substituted for canned when in season- Use water instead of liquid to make the sugar syrup, then pour the hot sugar syrup over fresh cherries- which need to ripen longer to soften and absorb the flavors. I top off my jar occasionally with drained canned tart red cherries for a fresh batch. The liquid is wonderful when used as a flavorful Baste for a Holiday Baked Ham. Added to your favorite Barbeque Sauce there is an indefinable flavor! Cheerful Cherries are not bright red, in fact the darker color indicates a thorough soaking – which is desirable. Making a batch of Hand Crafted Brandied Cherries or Mixed Fruit is easy and I guarantee a big dose of cheer goes a long way!
Love y’all, Camellia
*photographs are obviously mine. And the cherries which are dark have been soaked a while- the lighter color are freshly drained- I stir them to combine and refrigerate.