Archive for November, 2012


Maraschino: A Tale of Two Cherries

November 24, 2012

First it was lavender, ginger and gardening. Now I’m embracing fruit preserved in liqueur – and I’m a wee bit scared.

It was the grappa-soaked cherries accompanying the roast duck main that did it for me and I’ve been back to the Italian restaurant in Sydney twice now just for that dish.

Maraschino cherry posterThis image on my fridge door is suddenly more than a replica of an 1874 Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur poster – it’s a call to bottling and preserving. Luxardo is an Italian distillery famous for the production of the clear, almond flavoured liqueur made from marasca cherries. The small, sour cherries originating from Croatia are now also grown near Padova in north-eastern Italy where the distillery is based.

Most people are familiar with the maraschino cherry: garnish of choice on a Black Forest cake, bottom dweller in the classic Manhattan cocktail, child magnet* on a banana split. These garish red specimens bear no resemblance to the real Maraschino cherries that were once steeped in their namesake liqueur. The modern manufacturing process, invented by food scientists in the US, includes soaking in salt brine to remove their natural colour and flavour, pitting, more soaking in a sweetener for around a month before a final dip in artificial colouring and benzaldehyde (almond flavour) which was often confused with formaldehyde. And probably prompting a food critic to describe the cherries as “the culinary equivalent of an embalmed corpse.”

Real Maraschino soaked cherries are lovely but impossible to find now, with Luxardo selling their substitute preserved Marasca cherries in syrup, not liqueur. With the stone fruit season just round the corner in Australia, I’m suddenly very keen to try preserving local cherries in liqueur. I might even go one step further and try Stephanie Alexander’s cumquats in brandy.

Luxardo Maraschino liqueur bottleHere’s a recipe for Maraschino Cherries soaked in Maraschino liqueur (available at specialist liqueur suppliers such as Amato’s in Leichhardt) and worth buying for the raffia-wrapped green bottle alone.

* As I write this, a scene from Sergio Leone’s gangster epic Once Upon a Time in America (1984) comes to mind. The young boy buys a small cake to trade for his virginity, but decides to eat it instead, obviously tempted by the suggestive cherry atop the cream. I hope it was the real thing.

Luxardo bottle image: Jay Hepburn

I’ve just discovered that blogger pal Paola from ‘Italy on my Mind’ has written about cherries too. Here’s her recipe for a delicious Hungarian Cherry Cake.

Related posts about liqueurs:


I, Gladiolus

November 14, 2012

I really want to champion the cause of the unfashionable gladioli, but in future must remember the “buyer beware” warning.

I’d been on the lookout for gladioli for a couple of weeks, since my mother was given one by a stranger. At a post-medical appointment coffee ‘n cake break, she was presented with a lovely white gladdie plucked from a vase by the young male café manager. She had a new admirer, I was all but ignored and the words ‘chopped liver’ came to mind. No matter. The gesture brought a million dollar smile to her face and she can’t wait for next month’s appointment.

My mother always appreciated my father walking in the front door with a gladioli sheath for her birthday. I’d had a chat with him one year and suggested he swap the usual carnations for something more provocative. So throughout the ‘70s we embraced gladioli – until celebration roses took over.

Dame Edna Everage of course kept them in the public eye. For over 40 years, she endorsed them and her live show devotees in the front stalls risked serious eye damage as she javelined them from the stage. The word ‘Gladiolus’ comes from the Roman gladius meaning sword: a small sword was called a gladiolus. As a gladiator skilled in entertaining the public, the good Dame did wonders with these ‘sword lilies’. But with the Housewife Superstar’s retirement last July, I fear for their future.

red gladioli in vase

A display I prepared earlier, playing around with a Holga camera

I was so desperate for a bunch four days ago, I believed the florist’s “coupla days” response to my question about the unopened flower buds. Gladioli are seen by some as a bit frou-frou, but I love the contrasting frilly edges against the sharpness of the slender pointy leaves. Unfortunately, all I have in my vase are slender pointy leaves.

Maybe I should cut my losses and think about dinner? Gladdies are edible (except for the anthers) with a somewhat bland, lettuce-like taste. They’re recommended for holding tasty tidbits and I’m picturing them as an alternative to the iceberg lettuce cup for Sang Choi Bao. Or an Italian gorgonzola dip. Maybe decorating a refreshing sorbet alongside the other flowers currently scattered on fashionable restaurant plates.

So, is a new Gladioli ambassador already waiting in the wings? Morrissey, while performing The Smiths’ lyrics about sexual ambiguity and lust, used to shower the band’s fans with gladdies as a nod to his hero Oscar Wilde. I’d like to encourage him to continue.

Gladioli Sculpture Melbourne

As part of Dame Edna’s farewell tour this year, a 13-metre outdoor gladioli sculpture was erected in Melbourne where she recited the ‘Ode to the Gladioli’ but surprisingly confessed to the flowers being “unsubtle and slightly common”.

As if that’s a bad thing. 

Barry Humphries and the giant vase of Gladioli in honour of Dame Edna on the Arts Centre lawns.

(Photo: Donna Demaio)

PS. I’ve just read the latest post on one of my favourite blogs ‘The Gardenist’. Yes, it’s all about the gladdie!

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