My husband often teases me and calls me a hoarder. It is no secret that I am a collector of things. Vintage pottery and glass tableware, cookie cutters, cookbooks both old and new, bundt pans and baking tools; I have all of these things in larger quantities than I probably need. Each time he says something, I politely remind him that while I may own more than he prefers, we are in no danger of being buried alive by my things.
Even so, he may have a point when it comes to individual recipes; in this instance and thanks to Pinterest, I may be a hoarder of recipe pins. To further complicate things, I also have a habit of clipping recipes out of the newspaper and from magazines and for now, we will leave it at that and not discuss the scraps of paper and index cards all over the kitchen…
On a recent Wednesday morning, I flipped open the paper to the food section and within the pages, I found a recipes for Amarene Sotto Spirito, Italian style drunken cherries. Immediately, I was smitten with the idea of making them. However, Coastal Virginia is not known for sour cherries and I knew that this recipe was headed for the pile of things I would love to try making some day. That day came sooner than I could have ever expected when I made a trip to the grocery store a few weeks later. As I wandered around the produce section looking at the fruits, I suddenly found myself standing in front of quart sized baskets of sour cherries from New York. Of course there was no price posted, I grabbed 4 baskets and went in search of someone for a price check. While I was willing to buy them, I was not willing to bankrupt myself! And much to my surprise, they were only $4.99 a piece. Yes, it was a bit pricy, but I was expecting them to be nearly double that amount!
With 4 quarts in my cart, I finished shopping and headed home. Aside from the drunken cherries, I was going to make a tart and some jam! Cherries are not my favorite fruit, but they are definitely close to the top of the list, especially sour cherries. As much as I enjoy them, I prefer to eat sour cherries cooked into something. To surprise my husband, I made a lattice topped tart, which we proceeded to devour over the course of a couple days. The cherries I used for jam are now sitting in little jars and will most likely be given as gifts during the holiday season-yes, I try to get an early start if I can.
The recipe I followed was written by Domenica Marchetti for the Chicago Tribune and in the article that accompanied it, she spoke of the cherries her nonna (grandmother in Italian) would make. How she would lay the cherries out to dry in the sun in her native Italy but unfortunately, here in the Washington DC region where Ms. Marchetti lives, it is far too humid for them to dry before molding. Well folks, trust me when I say this, it ain’t any better here in Coastal Virginia, three hours south of DC!!! To make the cherries, she came up with a compromise; lay them on racks and place them in a warm oven for 10-12 hours. The cherries, with their pits in place for the extra flavor they contribute, the cherries dry out but do not get leathery.
The instructions call for drying them to “about 1/3 of their original size,” and since these cherries were so small, I almost think I should have stopped them when they were half their size. To me, they still felt pliable and soft but the pit was a lot of the volume in each cherry.
Once they are ready, the cherries are placed in a jar with superfine sugar to macerate for a few days. Because my cherries were so small, and I think I may have dried them a little too much, they never produced any juice to dissolve the sugar. After 4 days, I went ahead and added the alcohol to the jar and returned it to the pantry. While the recipe calls for mostly grain alcohol and a small amount of brandy, I used Boyd & Blair Potato Vodka that is actually only 80 proof rather than 100 proof and for the brandy, I broke into a bottle of Asbach Uralt that Darry brought back from Germany last year. Each day for over a week, I would shake the jar several times to help the sugar dissolve. After about 10 days, most of it had dissolved. By this point, the syrup was thick and had picked up a pink tint. The alcohol flavor had also mellowed but the cherries, which had begun to plump up, were still a bit tart. Knowing that they will continue to sweeten and take on the flavor of the booze is something I look forward to tasting in a month or so. These will make wonderful cocktail cherries and the syrup, I have some plans for that!
Sour cherries are hard to come by here and I may experiment with using some frozen ones, of course, they will not have the pits, but my options are limited! Now that we have a dehydrator, I may experiment with that as well since I can set the heat temperature, I can control the process. Either way, I look forward to making these again. Visit Domenica Cooks for more Italian recipes or to find her cookbooks.