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First of all, forget about what the maraschino cherry has become: dyed bright red, soaked in chemicals, sticky, sugary and unsuitable for inclusion in any drink—save for maybe a Shirley Temple. A real maraschino cherry is nothing like that. It’s deeply fruity and rich, with a lot of the same flavors as a really good dried cherry.
Maraschino cherries originated hundreds of years ago in Dalmatia, where it was common practice to preserve cherries and other fruits in a liqueur distilled from local Marasca cherries. In the late 19th century, the boozy cherries came into vogue in the US, where they were served on their own as a delicacy. Then Prohibition hit and the cherries were outlawed, prompting the invention of the ubiquitous nonalcoholic, super-sweetened impostor maraschinos that we see in grocery stores now.
Today, you can buy the real thing in specialty stores or you can easily make your own by briefly simmering sour cherries in maraschino liqueur and letting them sit in a jar in the fridge for a couple of days. If you’d prefer a booze-free version, use this recipe, which replaces the liqueur with grape juice, lemon juice, almond extract, sugar and anise. Both versions are ideal for use with this week’s Mad Genius Tip: a speedy way to pit cherries using a chopstick and an empty wine bottle.