In the age of the iPad, we’re prone adopt the conceit that we’re at the most advanced point in human history. While this may be true for watching reruns of SNL skits on a tablet with more horsepower than the Apollo space program, on other fronts, we’ve regressed beyond repair.
Take the Maraschino cherry. If you immediately think of the little clown’s nose atop a sundae, you couldn’t be more wrong. At one point in time, Maraschino cherries were a wonderful thing. Thanks to the demons of temperance and prohibition, they’ve been neutered and maligned in unspeakable ways. There’s only one thing to do — let’s take a jump in the Way-back Machine.
Once upon a time (the medieval days), in the fair Kingdom of Dalmatia (modern day Croatia), the people enjoyed a liquor made from the local sour Marasca cherries. In 1817, Girolamo Luxardo was sent to Dalmatia as representative of the Kingdom of Sardinia. His wife began making liqueurs at home, particularly “rosolio maraschino”, Maraschino liqueur. The product she produced was so fine that she began commercially selling it in 1821. Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur continues to be produced to this day, and it is a phenomenal product.
Along with the liqueur, the Dalmations also preserved the Marasca cherries in a combination of brine and Maraschino liqueur. These Maraschino cherries found their way to America, and under the Food and Drugs Act of 1906, the U.S. government officially classified them as “marasca cherries preserved in maraschino”. Flash forward a dozen years or so, and Prohibition swarmed over America. That presented a problem. Due to their liqueur content, authentic Maraschino cherries became illegal. Really.
Prohibition ended in 1933, and by that time, imitation cherries abound. The new cherries could be produced domestically by cheaper methods and were alcohol free. Real Maraschinos never stood a chance at making a comeback. In 1939, the FDA held a special hearing to address what could be labeled as a Maraschino cherry. Up until that point the ersatz products had to be labeled as such. No more. Protecting domestic products comes first, and as of 1940, any “cherries which have been dyed red, impregnated with sugar and packed in a sugar sirup [sic] flavored with oil of bitter almonds or a similar flavor” could be called Maraschinos.
Here’s what’s in a modern jar of “Maraschinos”:
Ingredients: Cherries, Water, Corn Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Citric Acid, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Potassium Sorbate and Sodium Benzoate (Preservatives), FD and C Red 40 and Sulfur Dioxide (Preservative).
Fortunately, genuine Luxardo Maraschino Cherries are available to us. You can find at specialty stores or via Amazon. Try them, and you will never, never go back. In comparison to the above, let’s look at the ingredients:
Ingredients: Marasca cherries, sugar, Marasca cherry juice, glucose, flavours.
Which would you rather add to your finely crafted cocktail? Truth be told, since I first dug deeper into imitation Maraschinos several years back, I have stopped eating them altogether. There are things about them that you’re better off just not knowing.
Homemade: Should you live in a sour cherry producing part of the world (which is Michigan here in the States), making your own Maraschinos takes the whole experience one step further. Here’s the recipe I use:
Just be sure to let them marinate for a few weeks before you sample them — it’s needed to replace the brine taste with the sweetness of the syrup.