Preserving fruit in alcohol and sugar is an age-old preparation, and an enjoyable one at that. The liqueur infuses the fruit, the fruit infuses the liqueur and the sugar adds a bit of sweetness that takes the edge off the strength of the alcohol. In fact, you could really think of this recipe as giving you two things: the boozy cherries, plump and sweet as the day they were picked, and the deep, tinted liqueur to drink in sips from a small, chilled glass once all the cherries are eaten.
Artusi has a similar recipe in his 1891 cookbook, Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well. It’s for visciole in guazzo, or sour cherries in spirits. The recipe is interesting though as he doesn’t actually add any liqueur to the jar of cherries, simply letting the cherries make their own. After picking over the cherries and pulling out any that are not so perfect, the imperfect ones are squeezed to make juice. The whole cherries are piled into a crystal jar, sugar poured over the top, followed by the juice and a stick of cinnamon, and it is then left, without being touched, for two months to macerate.
My version is a little bit quicker, and definitely boozier, but it still takes a little patience (a little over a month) before it is recommended tasting them. Consider putting the jar at the back of the cupboard where you can forget about it for a while—the longer it sits, the better.
In Italy, you can easily buy 190º proof (95% alcohol) in the supermarket for the purpose of making homemade liqueurs, but this isn’t available in many other countries. When using a 190º proof alcohol, the syrup serves to dilute the liqueur to something like vodka or limoncello. You can also make this with other liqueurs, namely those with neutral fragrance and flavour like vodka, or something that goes nicely with cherries such as brandy. In this case, you don’t need to make the syrup but can simply pour the sugar directly over the cherries once positioned in the jar, followed by about 350 ml of vodka or brandy, or enough to cover.
Ciliegie sotto spirito (Boozy cherries)
500 g cherries
150 ml pure alcohol
200 ml water
100 g granulated sugar
1 cinnamon stick
Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan and heat to a simmer or until the sugar is dissolved. Remove and let cool completely.
Wash the cherries and pat dry, keeping their stems on if possible. Place them in a large jar with the cinnamon stick, broken in pieces if needed. Pour over the alcohol and the sugar syrup. Ensure that the cherries are covered with liquid. Close the lid tightly and keep in a cool, dark place for at least 40 days before trying them.
Serve the cherries as they are, in little glasses with some of the liqueur, use them in cake or tart recipes or eat them with ice cream.
As long as the cherries are well covered by the liqueur, they will keep for months like this.
This is an edited extract from Florentine: The True Cuisine of Florence by Emiko Davies, published by Hardie Grant Books. Order your copy of Florentine: The True Cuisine of Florence here.