I really wanted to be Shirley Temple when I was younger. Maybe because we both had ringlets or because my mother strapped me into taps shoes the minute I could walk, but I always felt we were kindred spirits. My sisters and I would put on shows for our parents and their guests during dinner parties and I was the go-to girl for the Shirley Temple roles. Not that I ever objected. I would channel my best Shirley smile, don my sequined dance skirt, and eagerly attempt my best rendition of On The Good Ship Lollipop. Seeing as I was a fan of all things ST, I was naturally obsessed with her namesake drink and would ask for it every chance I got — with extra cherries, thank you very much.
But, when I got older, I came to realize how unnatural those day-glo Maraschino cherries and commercial grenadine are. So a few summers back, while deciding what to do with a particularly large bunch of cherries from the farmer’s market, I decided to make my own Maraschino cherries. It has not become a summer tradition to preserve cherries in a Maraschino-inspired recipe made with a rum-spiked and cardamom-spiced syrup.
This year I changed the recipe a bit, inspired by the the hard-to-find but fabulous grains of paradise my friend, chef Belinda, sent my way and the Tahitian vanilla another friend hand-delivered from the South Pacific. The combination of vanilla and cardamom lend familiar flavor but there’s a touch of intrigue thanks to the exotic spice of the grains of paradise. So here’s my latest recipe, lovingly coined Drunken Cherries in my house. They’re tasty right from the jar and a spoonful of the liquid makes a Bulleit Manhattan, but the kid in me likes them on top of a sundae. Granted it’s a more grown-up sundae with mocha ice cream, toasted hazelnuts, shaved bittersweet chocolate, and a spoonful of the Drunken Cherries, but I’m sure the adult Shirley would have approved.
Drunken Cherries Recipe
This riff on Maraschino cherries is a snap to make and only requires a few days resting time (as opposed to some recipes that take months to make). Though hard to find, grains of paradise are worth checking out. They resemble black peppercorns and can be used in the same way though they have a less harsh, more complex citrusy, resiny, and clove flavor. You can buy them at high-end stores and online though you could use black peppercorns here if you’re not up for the hunt. Using cherry juice helps underlines the cherry flavor but water will work in a pinch. As for the booze, brandy is traditional but I find that to be a bit too predictable and boring. Instead, I use a good-quality rum or a dry cherry liqueur like Luxardo Maraschino for a almond-like cherry flavor.
Makes: About 1 quart
1 cup cherry juice or water
2/3 cup light agave nectar, brown rice syrup, or 1 cup unrefined sugar
1 vanilla pod, split lengthwise
4 cardamom pods
1 teaspoon grains of paradise (can substitute black peppercorns)
1 pound sweet cherries, stemmed, halved, and pitted*
1 cup aged rum or Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Combine everything except cherries, alcohol, and lemon juice in a nonreactive medium saucepan over medium high heat. Stir until agave dissolves and cook until slightly thickened and syrupy, about 10 minutes.
Remove from heat, transfer to a heatproof container, add cherries, alcohol, and lemon juice, and cool to room temperature. Place in an airtight container and refrigerate for two days before using. They will last up to 2 months when refrigerated in an airtight container. Alternatively, the cherries can be canned for longer term storage.
To serve, eat right from the jar, use in your favorite cherry cocktail, or use to garnish a sundae, like I have here.
*Note: You can leave the cherries whole if you’d like but be sure to warn anyone you serve them to. If you decide to pit them, I’d suggest investing in a pitter. If you can’t find yours or don’t want to buy one, you can use a small (ie 1/8 tsp) measuring spoon to scoop out the pit.