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Though true maraschino cherries are sour Marasca cherries marinated in maraschino liqueur, you’re more likely to encounter neon imitations than the real thing. But not all maraschino cherries, imitation or otherwise, are a shlocky horror movie shade of red, nor are they slick with high-fructose corn syrup.
Nowadays there exist in the world wonderfully rich, dark orbs from Luxardo, a centuries-old producer once based in Croatia but today headquartered in Italy. There are also the candied sour cherries from Toschi, although they’re not made with the Marasca variety. You’ll find both these brands as well as homemade versions bobbing in Manhattans at craft cocktail bars all over the country.
Among them are those run by mixologist Derek Brown, the brain behind several establishments in Washington, D.C. ”I don’t know why [maraschino] cherries were used in the first Manhattan,” Brown told us. “[But] they definitely go well with the confectionary flavor of a lot of American whiskies.”
You can make maraschino cherries at home, too. Just don’t be a stickler for accuracy: Marasca cherries are largely grown in Croatia, northern Italy, Slovenia, Hungary, Bosnia, and Herzegovina, and are hard to find stateside. Instead, The New York Times’ Melissa Clark suggests procuring a 24-ounce jar of sour cherries in light syrup, then draining it. Here’s how to do the rest:
Recipe adapted from The New York Times
1 cup maraschino liqueur
1 24-ounce jar of sour cherries in light syrup, drained
In a small pot, bring maraschino liqueur to a simmer. Remove from heat and add cherries. Allow the mixture to cool before transferring it to a sealed jar.
Refrigerate jar for at least two days, or up to a few months. Serve in Manhattan cocktails, ice cream sundaes, or Shirley Temples.