[This post is horribly out of date and has some flawed concepts that I have since learned quite a bit about. A new recipe is part of my distillers workbook that references some great literature and unlocks more of the mysteries of the preserved cherry. Anyhow this is what I was dong back in 2008]
In the last couple weeks many forces have been preventing me from making it to Hay Market but today I finally got there. After checking out all the vendors, I bought four pounds of cherries for two dollars a pound (two pounds of Rainier, two pounds of Bing).
Cherries are not a big part of my diet and I usually only ingest their flavors through wine. The Rainier cherries are quite sweet relative to the Bing and my understanding is that the peak of their season is in July. In wine I’d say you might experience the Rainier flavor in the fruit of a lightly extracted rosé. The Bing variety has the most stunning sour quality and are really refreshing. They are really juicy in flavor and I think I should eat more of them. Bing cherry as a wine descriptor is thrown around quite a lot, but I can’t think of any wine that truly captures their flavor which is quite concentrated. A very young Dolcetto would be the best bet. The Piave liqueur Elisir Gambrinus synthesizes a Bing or probably better yet Marasca cherry like flavor by reducing the wine of the weed grape Ribasso. Only after concentrating the flavors (it makes a bland wine on average), does it come close to the intensity of a raw cherry.
So I bought all these cherries because one of my favorite discoveries of last year was the Provencial specialty called Cerises au Soleil or cherries of the sun. In this canning tradition, the French jar cherries with sugar and eau de vie then age them on roof tops for the duration of the summer. I got a couple jars of the imported version at formaggio kitchen and used them for a special Brown-Forman cocktail event I did for a couple hundred people last year. The product was great but the only thing I didn’t like was that the pits of the cherries were intact making them slightly difficult to eat.
For my recipe I cleaned and pitted all four pounds of cherries and put them together in a three liter mason jar. Instead of eau de vie, I added 750 mL of cachaca and 750 mL of Stock brand maraschino liqueur because both ingredients were on hand. I then added a small fraction of the pits that I took out to add a subtle nutty character. If I smell too much of that nut character I feel like someone is trying to poison me with cyanide. (if I ever put an almond liqueur in a drink, I need a float of dark rum to cover up that unnerving smell). So the only sugar I’ve introduced to the cherries has come from the maraschino liqueur which is quite sweet. The sugar content is enough to make the preserving liquid dense enough to float the cherries which is not where I want to be. Herve This advises in his Molecular Gastronomy that the proper sugar content for canning fruit in syrup is one at which the fruit doesn’t all fall to the the bottom (not enough sugar) or all float (too much). This is complicated by the differing ripeness of the fruits which is exacerbated in my batch by the differing varieties (I’m not stressing, at good average is what I seek). At the moment all of my fruit is floating and I should take out some of my alcoholic syrup and add either water or more Cachaca. Optimizing the syrup will keep the fruit from bursting if the sugar content is too low or shriveling if it is too high. Every home made maraschino cherry I’ve had has been shriveled, while the Cerises au Soleil from Provance were perfectly shaped. (I’m also not afraid of wasting any booze to get the correct maraschino liqueur to Cachaca ratio because anything I take out is going to flavor some sangria)
The next interesting part of the recipe to consider is the sun. Submitting the jarred cherries to the elements especially sunlight induces oxidation and basically speeds up the aging process. Maynard Amerine describes aspects of the idea in his Technology of Wine Making but doesn’t exactly recommend any of it. The technique may not create any attractive flavors in a wine or brandy but may add further sophistication to the over the top flavors of unfermented fruit. I keep putting my batch out in the sun when I work lunch while I’ve heard of other people decorating their gardens with their canning jars. Time will tell exactly how much I like my domestic results.
Some ideas for down the road would be to augment the acidity to my liking. I really enjoy aspects of the Rainier cherries but feel that they are kind of sweet. Diffusing a little extra acidity through a sprinkling of malic or tartaric acid would really create a preserved yet refreshing palate cleanser. Also enhancing the preservation with avante garde base spirits would be cool. A really minerally Cape Verdean rum or over the top Peruvian pisco would add awesome sophistication.
So mixing the two types of cherries turned out to not be a great idea because their colors became kind of homogeneous and they definitely had drastically different densities therefore requiring different amounts of sugar (half sunk and half floated). I do think they taste good but for some reason the cherries taste far more alcoholic than the liquid they are in and I have no idea why. Another problem is that the cherries at the very top of the jar have browned due to oxidation. None of the imported Cerises au Soleil browned even though there was no preservative listed and the jars were not even filled to the top. How did they do it?
I found a clue in the electronic addition of Artisan Distilling by Kris Arvid Berglund. Berglund provides a small and very useful guide for small distilleries that is definitely worth checking out. An interesting part of the guide describes the tradition of the pear in the bottle of eau de vie and what it really takes to make it stick. Apparently an 80 spirit isn’t enough to really preserve a fruit and prevent browning. For starters Burglund recommends a 45% alcohol spirit. Then very surprisingly to me, Burglund recommends filling the bottles with a 1% sulfuric acid solution and letting it stand for one hour. The bottles are then thoroughly rinsed with softened water. One gram of ascorbic acid is dissolved in every liter of fortifying brandy. After filling the bottles Burgland recommends to vacuum out the oxygen as well with something like a water jet pump or maybe a vin vac (I have no idea how you would do it to a canning jar). Another surprise to the story is that often the fruit has to wait in the jar quite a while before the eau de vie is even ready for it. to preserve it in the mean time a solution of 10 g citric acid, 1 g ascorbic acid, and 100 mg SO2 (= 2ml SO2 solution 5%) per liter which can supposedly preserve the fruit for up to six months while the eau de vie is being produced.