“Last week for cherries!” the fella at last weekend’s farmer’s market crowed, and I knew I had to do something. I ended up taking home six pounds of the last of the season’s Rainier and Bing cherries.
Here in Washington, we grow more sweet cherries than just about any place else. When I first moved up here, these things flummoxed me — they weren’t tart like the cherries I knew back east. And these white things that look kinda like over-ripened crabapples? You guys think they’re so special you named ‘em after the big mountain off in the distance?
Turns out Rainier cherries are worth moving to the west coast for. They’re pretty fragile as far as cherries go, more suspectible to big temperature swings, and farmers tend to lose a lot of fruit to birds. This makes them pretty spendy, even close to the orchards1. At the start of the season, I’ll see Rainiers go for something like $5 a pound. When they hit their peak towards the end of July through early August, they’re a little cheaper. All of which is to say: these are premium fruits worth hanging on to for as long as you can as the season ends.
As luck would have it, it’s pretty easy to preserve cherries in syrup and alcohol — our friends at American Drink have a great primer on just that. I took my pal Albert’s advice and did a bit of experimenting. Here’s what I came up with.
- 2lbs of cherries - Bing, Van, Rainier, go nuts
- 1 cup of water
- 1 cup of sugar
- 1 cup of alcohol of your choice (rum, brandy, various liquers, bourbon, wine)
- A few clean, wide mouth jars with new lids
When you’re picking a liquor, have fun, but keep it straightforward. Brandies and other distilled wines make a good choice. I matched bourbon with both Rainiers and Bings and they came out great. You could even do a white or a rosé wine with Rainiers to match their light color.
You’re probably going to want to invest in a cherry pitter because pitting more than a couple of cherries with a paring knife or screwdriver (seriously) is a pain in the ass. I like this one from Oxo.
Make sure your jars are clean. I like to run them through the diswasher without soap or boil for about 10 minutes, just to make sure.
De-stem, wash and pit your cherries. This will take a while. SAVE THE PITS. Seriously.
Add the cherry pits and the water to a pot and bring to a boil. The seeds will add some color and flavor to the syrup. You could add other flavors at this point — a cinnamon stick, lemon or orange zest, a vanilla bean, peppercorns — but go easy.
Once the water’s boiling, add the sugar, stir to dissolve, and leave on the heat only long enough to make sure all the sugar has dissolved. Remove the pot from the heat, then add your booze.
A word about the liquor here: you’re going to need to determine on your own how boozy you want these cherries to be. A full cup should do the trick; I wouldn’t recommend more than that. You can boil off some or all of the alcohol if you just want the flavor without the hooch. And you can skip the alcohol all together. You might need to double the amount of syrup you make.
Fill your jar with as many cherries as you can — I found it was best to do a few at a time so I didn’t end up with big gaps. Pour the syrup over the cherries, then let them cool to room temperature then refrigerate. They should last a few months in the fridge.
The obvious use for these is as cocktail cherries and I won’t stand in your way there. Spoon a few with a little syrup over a scoop of icecream to bring a little summer flavor back into fall.
Rumor has it that in Japan, where people tend to be rather perfectionist about their produce, Rainier cherries sell for as much as a dollar a piece. ↩