The allure of fresh cherries is undeniable. I’ll be hard-pressed to forget the first time I actually went cherry picking. Akin to apples, pears, peaches, and the like, cherries grow on trees in orchards. Beautiful, sweeping orchards with vistas the stuff that postcard dreamscapes are made of. So I embarked, armed with two 10-gallon buckets, a 4-footish-tall ladder, and the determination to hand-pick some cherries. The bonus smells of summer and sounds of ailing bird calls (a clever deterrent to “warn” hungry invaders of false danger, thus keeping them far away from the succulent ripe fruit) were the perfect Hollywood set-up on my quest to bring home one of nature’s most delicious creations.
Be not mislead, cherry picking virgins, by the equally insulting artificial colors and flavors pumped into foods that are pushed as “cherry”. The flavor of true cherry is really enjoyed in the fruit’s fresh form; hence my mission to preserve and enjoy it for as long as possible. While freezing freshly picked cherries is certainly an incredibly successful option, I opted for a preservative that would do better to complement my evening cocktail: brandy.
The dawn of cherry season this year meant bringing home a hand-picked haul from an orchard just outside Hudson in Columbia County, New York. Our brandied cherry coffers of the previous year stripped bare from routine enjoyment, I set my hands to “artisan” mode and commenced to pitting and preserving nearly 20 pounds of cherries….by hand…one, by one, by one… Many hours (and days of stained red fingertips) later, our cleaned bounty of seasonal perfection had been transformed into a singular bite of brandied bliss. I was confident that I’d once again found a way to keep the fickle window of seasonality open. So I stocked my basement shelves with jar after jar of affirmation that the taste of summer would be with me - or at least with my drink - all year long.
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To truly preserve these cherries for enjoyment all year round, they should be jarred. If you’re unfamiliar with jarring, it’s quite easy to do at home, but there are a few key safety tips that must be followed. Always read and follow the instructions that accompany your purchased jars.
When picking your own cherries, there are many different varieties available. Whether you’ve got a sweet tooth or enjoy a sour punch, use the kind you enjoy most. You can also flavor them however you like; I enjoy the robust spices used in this recipe, but feel free to mix & match them with your favorite flavors.
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
2 star anise
1 pound cherries, washed and pitted
1 cup brandy
In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine all ingredients except the cherries and brandy. Bring them to a boil, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved. Reduce the heat to medium, add the cherries, and simmer for 5 minutes.
Remove the pot from the heat, stir in the brandy, and let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate the cherries in an airtight container, shaking once daily, for one week.
Store the finished cherries in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.
Patrick W. Decker’s life revolves around food. Always has. Probably always will. As a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and past member of the culinary team on Rachael’s daytime talk show, he now works as a food stylist and producer in NYC by day, and a food writer and recipe developer at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley by night. You can see what he’s up to by following his latest twEATs on Twitter at@patrickwdecker or visiting his website at patrickwdecker.com.