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: 



  1. hmm can smell the deliciousness from here !

    • This will be a Christmas project. Standby!

  2. Love the bottle of Luxardo. And the cherries soaked in grappa with duck sound amazing. I am heading up to Sydney for work shortly so maybe you can share the name of it?

  3. The restaurant is called ‘La Trattoria’ and it’s in Norton St, Leichhardt. I hope they keep the roast duck w/grappa soaked cherries on the menu! http://trattorianorton.com.au/

  4. Good luck! Real boozed cherries are great in cocktails.

    • Yes, that’s on my list of used for them too.

  5. Making your own would be so much better than the shop bought ones, especially as so many bear no resemblance to the traditional cherries at all. Let us know how they go!

    • Will do. Getting ready for some hard work this weekend!

  6. I love love love cherries but have never thought of pickling them in liqueur myself … until i read your post that is. I suspect i would pickle them, then eat them one by one. Maybe that’s the point! Great post. Love your work!

    • Thanks. My intent of course is to eat them one by one to make sure the alcohol content is just right. Preparing to pickle any day now. Will report back!

  7. Yes the maraschino cherries would go really well in my cupcakes 🙂


  8. I have loved cherries of any description since early childhood… I think I might just have to pickle some this season. Thank you for the inspiration, lovely xo

    • Thanks Lizzie. I had some lovely pickled cherries with a duck dish in an Italian restaurant recently. Haven’t tried to make them this way before, must try to emulate.

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