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fail: maraschino cherries

Posted by aleta under recipe fail

So I got a little momentum on this project in, like, August or something, except I had some sore disappointments, all in a row, that kinda scared me off for another several months, apparently, and I just haven’t really found my way back into the kitchen for much other than chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese.

One of these disappointments was maraschino cherries, since the fruit was in season (at the time, now so long ago) and it was another one of those posts that were supposed to be MY MASTERPIECE. And while I ended up with a whole array of beautiful photos, I also ended up with salty, inedible and downright gross cherries.

I found two recipes on the internet for these, one of which called for salt as a brining agent, the other which had just a little bit of salt and alum. Then I thought “hey, what’s all this dye about,” and set up a little Latin Square experiment testing the different combinations. Unless you’ve recently studied that especially titillating branch of Mathematics called Statistics, the last time you probably thought about a Latin Square was in Sophomore year of high school when your biology teacher taught you all about Mendel’s experiments. Here’s what mine looked like:

Alum with dye Alum without dye
Salt with dye Salt without dye

After a laborious three-day process of brining, rinsing, parboiling & refrigerating, I ended up with salty cherries, poorly preserved, and not a thing like the fluorescent red maraschino babies you find at the grocery store. And that’s not in a good way, either, like “oh man, these are WAY better than store-bought cherries!” No no, it was like “how could so much effort & care end so very badly.”

So while I hate to update for the first time in months with a fail post, the pictures really are awfully pretty, and maybe someone who has done this before can tell me where I went wrong.

It all starts with cherry pitting, which is made easier with this Iron Maiden-like device. And just in time for Halloween!

Maraschino cherries.

At this point, our cherries are still not only edible, but delicious what’s more!

Maraschino cherries.

After one day of brining, we have the alum solution on the left and the salt solution on the right. The alum really pulls its weight as a superior preservative and brought out a truly beautiful color from the cherries.

Maraschino cherries.

After three days of brining & rinsing, the alum-treated cherries are looking rather lovely…

Maraschino cherries.

…particularly when compared to the salt-treated cherries, which resemble nothing so much as wounds resulting from grievous kitchen accidents that have been under a bandaid for two days.

Maraschino cherries.

But we forge onward, draining, rinsing, new brine.

Maraschino cherries.

And then I used my patented “covering any old bowl” technique for keeping flies, dust & curious cats’ paws out of the stuff overnight. Incidentally, I do this for pretty much anything that would be annoying to saran wrap.

Maraschino cherries.

Then some finalized draining happened.

Maraschino cherries.

Then I made a simple syrup, which was WAY too sweet, but syrup is really fun to make. It’s just sugar and water that starts out all swirly and then ALL OF THE SUDDEN it transforms into a clear solution that will definitely burn you in a bad way because it’s super hot because [blah blah blah chemistry blah blah]. I could probably explain but I’ll save it for another time when I’m actually discussing a recipe.

Maraschino cherries.Maraschino cherries.Maraschino cherries.

Put the cherries in the syrup.

Maraschino cherries.

And finally, we have our latin square, realized & stylized.

Maraschino cherries.

I can’t even tell you which one had the dye, because it is so clearly unnecessary. So that was my single finding. But in a shallow white bowl, you can see the slight variations in color that resulted.

Maraschino cherries.

And those are some nice looking glasses too.

Maraschino cherries.

At this point, though I had tasted these a bit, I tried making a Shirley Temple. And that was when the saltiness really hit me. These may look pretty, but they are awful.

Maraschino cherries.

Maraschino cherries.Maraschino cherries.

Failure. It’s the pits.

Maraschino cherries.

  1. Prudy Said,

    I’d have never considered that salt was in Maraschino Cherries since they are so sweet and delicious. At least you ended up with some very nice, fancy pictures. Maybe you could sell them to a photo stock place and recoup some earnings for your cherry misery. 🙂 Glad to have you back.

  2. Emily Said,

    This recipe was delicious – they may not have a grocery store shelf life, but the liquor has kept mine quite well for the past six months.

  3. Mike V Said,

    How much salt/alum did you use? The first recipe I found suggested 1 tbsp. to 2 qts. water. Doesn’t sound like much.

    Wikipedia also claims the brine may contain alcohol, sulphur dioxide, and the sugar solution may contain metabisulphates. Doesn’t sound like a home-cookin’ type recipe. More like something someone invented in a factory to preserve an excess of cherries.

  4. Stephanie Said,

    Thanks for coming back!!
    And kudos for taking on this cherry feat- I dont have the balls to try something so difficult

  5. Kim Said,

    Oh who cares about the “fail” – you got some gorgeous pictures! And as any professional food photographer will tell you, the prettiest pictures come from the grossest-tasting foods. Not that I am a food photographer…but I did watch Food Network Challenge: Food Photography, so I’m sure I count as an expert.

    While the cherry-taste might qualify for the “fail” category, the photos are wonderful, and as a reader (and thus, someone who can’t taste the cherries herself), I think this is a big WIN!!!

  6. Kiera Said,

    Ah, failure is part and parcel. Thank you for sharing this with us regardless of the mishaps. And you’re right– those are some lovely pictures! Hopefully someone with some superior cherry preservation knowledge will come in here and impart their wisdom.

    Rock on


  7. Jewel Said,

    There was an article about making maraschino cherries on cupcake project a few months ago. They didn’t use any salt. The used actual maraschino liquor to preserve the cherries.

  8. melissa Said,

    If it makes you feel better, I was fermenting pickles for the first time ever and when I checked them yesterday, SO excited about tasting and making a post, they smelled awful (when just 3 days prior they smelled great) and fell to mushy pieces in my hands when I gave them a little squeeze.

  9. Mr. P Said,

    Oh my God. I just laughed out lound. Failure really is the pits!

    Those photos are lovely though. And I think it says a lot about globalisation that you in Massachusetts (I think that’s where you are…) have the same dishes as my friends in Cardiff, Wales. 🙂

    It’s amazing that you’re back by the way. I love omnom! In you absence, I had to start my own blog, but I kind of suck at it. My photos are awful! But you make even failure look pretty: I would drink that Shirley Temple.

    Good to have you back. Are you still doing the recipe round robins? Because I wish to partake.

  10. Christopher Said,

    Welcome back! I’ve been missing this blog for a long time now.

  11. Jason Sandeman Said,

    Wow. It may have been a failure, but at least you tried. I count that as a success in any book. The pics are lovely, just don’t be discouraged to try them again!

  12. Amy I. Said,

    Aleta! I’m glad you’re back. The end.

  13. Kat W Said,

    So nice to see a post from you, Aleta! I’ve missed your smiling words and fantastic pictures. I agree with the rest–taste may have been a fail, but photos are lovely! I laughed and laughed and laughed at your bandaid-salt-cherries description and photo. Thanks!

  14. Aleta Said,

    Thanks for all the welcome backs! I missed my site. =)

    @Mike V: yes, that was the big takeaway here (that maraschino cherries are a factory-product, not a kitchen-product), and the reason I never bothered with any real experimenting.

    @Stephanie: not so difficult, just time-consuming!

    @melissa: total bummer about your pickles! You’ll see that I have not posted any pictures of pickles, and for exactly that reason.

    @Mr. P: Yep! I have a Round-Robin in the works. Should be an announcement next week.

    @Kat W: nice to see that someone picks up on those little comments! I was pretty proud of that one.

  15. wasabi prime Said,

    First off — WELCOME BACK OMFG!!1111!!!1!! What a great post. I’m sorry the flavor wasn’t there, but you guys are rockstar to give maraschino cherries a whirl. I was thinking of doing a cheater version, buy dried whole cherries and just soak them in brandy until they’re drunk as a skunk and throw them into my frosty beverages. They don’t have the lovely vibrant color of these, but they sure are tasty.

  16. raych Said,

    I just had an epic-fail of the candy-apple-making variety yesterday, and I was gloomy. So, thanks for also failing?

    Also, I’ve missed you.

  17. Elissa Said,

    Soooo pleased you are back!!

  18. Denise Said,

    Hey Aleta, i’ve been doing some research about the marraschino cherries… it’s actually really easy to make them:
    well, i’m from Argentina and we speak in kilos here :P, so i guess you’re gonna have to translate it to pounds or whatever you use:

    1/2 kilo of cherries
    1 liter of marraschino liquor
    300 grams of sugar

    you clean the cherries thoroughly, and put them in a sterilized jar. You cover them with the marraschino, close the jar, and let them there (in a dark place, away from sunlight) for about 4 weeks. After that time has passed, you add the sugar, and shake it a little bit to mix the sugar. Now you let them rest for 2 more months, and voila, you should have some home made marraschino cherries.

    hope that works out!

    ps: i’ve missed you!!!

  19. Maven Koesler Said,

    I swear I read a homemade M.cherry recipe that had you soak the cherries in a Lye solution (similar to how they cure olives) until they were bleached yellow. Then they were washed (several times) and soaked in dyed syrup. They also advised to use Queen Ann or a yellow cherry and _advised against_ Bings. I thought it sounded like a totally synthetic creation that could have used any organic sponge to make a “maraschino” cherry! I like the liquor soaked cherry idea much more. I have a quart jar of Bings in sweetened vodka in the fridge right now, and they beat the pants off those day-glo store bought ones. They’ve been steeping for about 5 months and, wow!

  20. br. rumas Said,

    Yes sir,
    There’s a lot to be said about what not to do
    and it takes courage or utter disgust to point
    to failure especially when it is you doing the failing.
    Thanks so much for your honesty and wise
    decision to share this failing with us it is deeply
    appreciated. At least in this court.
    We can certainly trust that when ever you do
    get it right we’ll be the first to know.
    Good luck with all your other interests in life
    my brother

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