Cherries in Cocktails - A Proper Garnish for the Little Italy Cocktail
Maraschino cherries are a staple ingredient behind almost any bar. They are an extremely common garnish for a wide variety of cocktails, and if you look through the annals of historical cocktail books, you find cherries to have been a cocktail garnish for over a hundred years.
The common maraschino cherries we have today, however, bare little resemblance to the cherries bartenders in the 1800’s would have used. The original maraschino cherries were imported “Marasca” cherries, a dark sour cherry from Dalmatia (now Croatia). They were packed in a thick flavorful liqueur, and where considered a luxury treat. Soon cheaper imports sprang onto the market, trying to satisfy the American sweet tooth. These “imitation” maraschino cherries were sometimes made using questionable methods, and were usually artificially flavored in order to disguise either the lack of flavor in the resultant product, or the off-flavors which resulted from the processing. American cherries were deemed unacceptable for use since they had a softer texture which got even worse once the cherries were prepared. The Pure Food Act of 1906 paved the way to clean up the methods used for manufacturing consumables. This helped to eliminate much of the downright dangerous cherries on the market, but did nothing for the “imitators” of the real thing. In America, methods were developed to turn a “Royal Anne” cherry into a crude approximation of the maraschino cherry. Then in 1912, the FDA stepped in to clarify what it meant to be a “maraschino” cherry:
- “maraschino cherries” should be applied only to marasca cherries preserved in maraschino. This decision further described maraschino as a liqueur or cordial prepared by process of fermentation and distillation from the marasca cherry, a small variety of the European wild cherry indigenous to the Dalmatian Mountains. Products prepared from cherries of the Royal Anne type, artificially colored and flavored and put up in flavored sugar sirup might be labeled “Imitation Maraschino Cherries”
Today, non-marasca maraschino cherries are no longer required to refer to themselves as “imitation” but, once you’ve tried the real thing, you can clearly see there is no comparison. To help distinguish true marasca cherries from rest it has become common to pronounce real maraschino cherries as “mare-es-KEE-no”, as it was originally pronounced, and those neon red globes as “mare-a-CHEE-no”. For your cocktail use, the best cherries to look for are Luxardo Maraschino Cherries, while costing more than the supermarket variety, they are worth having on hand. You can thank the Pegu Club of New York for establishing the relationship with the Luxardo Company back in 2005 to bring these cherries into the US in bulk and then popularizing them amongst craft bartenders across the nation.