Tuesday, June 19, 2012
We’ve had our house in Umbria for about twenty years now. And while I’ve gone through ups and downs of preserving different fruits and vegetables from are garden and orchard, there is one item I have a love/hate relationship with: cherries.
Don’t get me wrong. I love, love, love cherries. But I hate, hate, hate pitting them. The thing is we have at least 4 or 5 wild cherry trees on our property and have planted about 4 more varieties. So we are very lucky that our cherry harvest is usually huge.
The problem is, our cherry harvest is usually huge.
Yes, I have cherry guilt.
You see there’s only so many cherries that you can eat/give away or make into a pie or tart. I do stick some in the freezer, pits and all. And big bags sit in the fridge, waiting to be eaten. But for about two weeks I have this nagging feeling that I should be making jam or something. And in fact I do like cherry jam. But do you know how many cherries you have to pit to get a jar of jam?
My friend Edward brought me an excellent restaurant-grade cherry piter last year, and my friend Jane is more than willing to use it on my behalf (and get paid in kind for whatever gets made) Yet still, I'm always on the lookout for a recipe for cherries that doesn’t requite pitting.
By now, you are all way too familiar with my penchant for cocktails. So this year, as I was filling up basket number six with cherries, I remembered Melissa’s recipe for maraschino cherries that appeared a few years ago in the NYTimes. Perfect. A recipe that combined the possibility for a cocktail with the total absence of any pitting what-so-ever.
But I guess I must have misremembered the original recipe (too many of said cocktails?) because Melissa does in fact pit them.
Looking over my cherry harvest I made an executive decision: Melissa’s maraschino recipe would probably be even made better with the pits.
The next step was getting a bottle of Maraschino liqueur. Luckily I’ve inherited 7 cases of vintage liqueurs recently. Domenico’s aunt passed away a few years ago and this winter we finally went through the last of the storage closets in her apartment. This is the same apartment in Bari where Domenico’s father grew up, and where his two aunts and uncle Elio continued to live for their entire lives.
Zio Elio was a lawyer, and like all professionals received various gifts from clients and colleagues at the holidays. And back in the ‘fifties the gift du jour was a festive box of liqueurs. But since Zio Elio and the aunties were not the drinking types, most of the boxes remained closed, untouched and perfectly preserved until I brought them back to Rome a few months ago.
Although I hadn’t really done an inventory, I knew I was likely to find Maraschino somewhere in there. Maraschino is one of those old fashioned liqueurs that every Italian aunt seems to have in her closet.
Not only did I find a bottle, but the bottle itself was gorgeous. Encased in an elaborate raffia net, the slender bottle had a stunning black and white label. Even though I felt sort of sacrilegious defacing this pristine time capsule, I snipped away and gently slid the somewhat soggy cork out of the neck.
Within about 2 seconds the entire house was engulfed in the heady aroma of cherries, almonds and vanilla. I guess if you put enough alcohol and sugar in something it will stay perfectly preserved, even if it sits in a closet in Bari for about sixty years.
The rest was easy. As per Melissa’s instructions I gently warmed the Maraschino and then poured it over the cherries into a jar.
I’ll have to wait a week or so to start using my lovelies. But the waiting has been painless, since there was plenty of maraschino left to make a few batches of my new favorite cocktail the Aviation. And since I have six more holiday cases of booze to break into, the waiting can only get easier.
I followed Melissa's recipe, which you can find here. My only change was - duh!- to keep the pits where they belonged.