Holiday Miracle Brandied Cherries in an Hour
This recipe is just in time because cherries are about to be unavailable in Texas. I’m sure over on the West Coast you guys are covered up with beautiful cherries for a good part of the year, here in the South, the person who finds them first in the stores each season is given a ruby chalice, a crown and a belly ache! I always eat too many- and I always forget not to eat too many until it’s too late! Whether or not it’s easy for you to get fresh gorgeous cherries, you need to make these now because these are little miracles for the holidays.
Last summer I made a lot of jams for gifts such as peach and strawberry hibiscus but the cherry creations; bourbon cherry jam, balsamic cherry jam, brandied cherries and bourbon cocktail cherries went over like gangbusters! Everyone loved them! Apparently they were so delicious that you could eat them directly from the jar. If that’s not a ringing endorsement I’ve never heard one ring before! I function pretty well on positive reinforcement so this year I decided to make several batches of cocktail cherries and less fruit jams. I had my recipes from last year but thought that I would search around for to see what else was out there.
Cocktails are sooooo fashionable (I blame the Mad Men series) there are “new recipes” available, but basically they are same. You make simple syrup. You boil the cherries in the syrup. Remove the cherries. Boil the syrup more. Sterilize the jars, pack the jars, fill them with syrup. Process the filled jars and all that’s left to do is wait three months. That’s right. Just sit down and wait because you don’t want to have these for at least three months.
You see where I’m going here? This is August. In three months it’ll be November. And that my friends, IS the time that you’re going to want to have these cocktail cherries to offer your friends and family when they come over. Even if you don’t want to make TONS to give away as gifts you should at least make a half a dozen jars to give away as hostess gifts. Things are hectic in the holidays; this is one less thing you’ll have to do to get ready for all the fabulous parties that you’ll no doubt be attending this season.
The jars I used here are beautiful diamond cut “Ball” brands jars. They’re easy to find at Kroger, Home Depot or the feed store. They look really beautiful with the cherries inside dont you think? You also notice I left my cherries whole with the stems attached. Not only does this look pretty in the jar but also leaving the stem on makes it the classic garnish for a drink. Leaving the pit intact lends flavor to the syrup. (When I make cherry jam although I pit the cherries I also crush the pits and take out the tiny little kernel inside and use it to help flavor the jam as well as add pectin – but that’s another blog post.)
The point is these are so easy it’s crazy! There’s no prep essentially! All you have to do is rinse the cherries and make sure the stems are still fresh. When you’re ready to start packing the jars use silicone tongs to place the hot cherries in the hot jars. Don’t be afraid to use the ends of the tongs to gently squish the cherries down a bit to make room for more. Once you add the syrup the cherries will float so try to get as many in there as possible. You can see in the photograph I probably could’ve gotten a few more in there but wasn’t really sure how they would hold up and I did not want to crush them completely. Next year I’ll be a little more enthusiastic in packing them tighter. Also using a heavy-duty oven mitt to hold the hot jar with one hand while you pack the cherries in with the other hand makes it go a little faster. But hear this, this is a messy process. There’s going to be cherry syrup everywhere around your stove. And there’s also going to be quite a bit of cherry syrup left over. I would suggest putting it in a jar and keeping it in the refrigerator. It will probably last about six months in the fridge. This cherry brandy syrup can be used for everything! Crepes, ice cream, more cocktails yummm! Sort of a bonus of your not-too-hard-work! I suppose you could even put it into a pretty bottle and give it as a gift too! Why not?
2 pounds of cherries
1 1/4 cup of sugar
1 cup of water
½ c. lemon juice
1 whole vanilla bean
1 whole star anise
½ c. brandy* see note
Sterilize a dozen 12 or 14 ounce jars in your dishwasher. Place the jars and rings on a small rimmed sheet pan in a preheated 250° oven. Heat the jars for at least 30 minutes before filling with cherries.
Prepare your water bath canner and bring to boiling, keep the lid on. Bring your lids to a simmer on the stove.
Rinse the cherries under running cool water and pick through them looking for bruised cherries, brown stems or rot. Trim the stems if they are unattractive but try to leave as much of the stem as possible intact. Bring everything except for the brandy and the cherries to boil on the stove in a medium-size pan. Allow the mixture to simmer until the sugar is dissolved, about five minutes. Add the cherries. Bring to a simmer for about 5 to 8 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove the cherries from the syrup and set aside. Add the brandy to the syrup and bring to a simmer again to intensify the flavor. Simmer for five minutes.
While the cherry syrup is simmering remove the jars from the oven pack the jars with the cherries. Pack as many as possible pressing down on the cherries to fit a few more in. Try to keep the cherries intact. Carefully ladle the hot syrup on top of the cherries. Use a wooden chopstick or skewer to remove air bubbles by gently stirring the cherries in the syrup. Add more syrup if necessary leaving 1/2 inch head space. Top off each jar with a half a teaspoon of brandy. Wipe the rims of the jars with a wet cloth, place the lids and rings on the jars and process in the water bath for 20 minutes.
Remove the jars to a towel on the counter and allow them to sit undisturbed overnight. Check each jar to make sure that it has sealed properly. Wipe the jars clean, add a pretty label and put them in the closet until the holidays. If any of the jars did not seal properly replace the lid and put them in the refrigerator. They’ll be fine. Let these be your secret stash for yourself, or tell the hostess when you give them to her that they are to be used as soon as possible and kept in the refrigerator. You won’t believe the squeals of delight that you’ll hear after these have been added to someone’s old-fashioned cocktail or whiskey sour or apparently just enjoyed straight from the jar!
* you could very easily use bourbon instead of brandy in this recipe. I made both this year.