‘Cherry ripe, cherry ripe – ripe I cry’ goes the old English song, though evidently it started off life as a poem written in the 17th century by Robert Herrick.
And for many of us cherries are a favourite summer fruit – luscious ripe large black-red cherries often from Kent, or else the white cherries with their delicate pink blush and the sharp almost bitter morello cherries perfect for cooking.
Glace or maraschino?
In the winter when they are not available the closest thing is often bright red glace cherries decorating trifles or mixed into cakes. It happened in this household not so long back when Christmas cakes and puddings were being made – several of the glace cherries we noticed were ‘stolen’ and eaten when nobody was looking.
Then of course there are the maraschino cherries floating jewel-like in a glass of something probably alcoholic and cocktail-like.
Compared to the fresh fruit, maraschino and glace cherries, regardless of their high sugar content, are not the healthiest thing to eat as artificial colourings have been used, and they are low in the likes of vitamins and minerals. However, candying them in sugar and syrup is a way of preserving the delicate fragile fruit
But first the fruit has probably been soaked in a brine solution which includes calcium chloride and sulphur dioxide for some four to six weeks. This bleaches out their colour and indeed the flavour. They are then soaked in another solution that contains red food colouring, sugar and a little almond flavouring prior to being pitted and any stalks removed and covered in a sugar type syrup with preservatives. Glace cherries are maraschino cherries that have been soaked in extra sugar syrup.
On the other hand Luxardo Maraschino cherries are completely natural
In preference look out for natural glace and maraschino cherries like those produced by Luxardo, a company which has an interesting story to tell.
These cherries are not bleached with chemicals, dyed and soaked in copious amounts of sugar. In fact, Luxardo cherries are a completely natural product.
Why were they called maraschino cherries?
Maraschino cherries were so called because they were originally made from Marasca cherries – a sour cherry originating from the area once known as Dalmatia but now part of Croatia.
For centuries the skins, stones (pits) of the cherries, along with the stems and leaves had been used to make a liqueur. Alcohol is also a useful way of preserving fruit.
The prestigious Luxardo Distillery
However, it was a certain Maria Canevari, wife of Girolamo Luxardo a Genovese businessmen, who had moved to the city of Zara in 1817 who perfected the liqueur – and to such a high standard that it was in constant demand. Girolamo seizing the opportunity founded the Luxardo Distillery in 1821 to keep up with the demand.
It came to the attention of the Emperor of Austria and was awarded the title of ‘Privilegiata Fabbrica Maraschino Excelsior’, rapidly becoming an essential cocktail ingredient, as well as being appreciated by cooks and chefs.
In 1913 Michelangelo Luxardo built a more modern distillery, but it was destroyed in WW2. In fact, only one member of the family – Giorgio Luxardo actually survived the war by fleeing to Italy and eventually reaching the Veneto region. He saved not only himself but also a cherry tree sapling.
That little Marasca sapling was the beginning of the trees, some 30,000 of them today, which produce these special sour cherries. In the spring the hills close to Padua turn frothy pink/white with their blossoms.
Joining forces with a colleague, who had also survived the war and who had been able to save the original Luxardo recipe book, they set to work to rebuild the business. Giorgio settled in the city of Torreglia establishing a new distillery in 1946 producing and selling liqueurs to the world.
Luxardo – still a family run business
It takes four years to produce Luxardo Maraschino cherries from beginning to end. The cherries are infused for three years in Larchwood vats; distilled in small copper stills and aged in Finnish ash wood for a year before sugar and water is added to create cherry juice prior to bottling. The cherry syrup is a mix of sugar, water and marasca cherry juice.
200 years later Luxardo is still a family run business with the sixth generation very much involved in its activities; and Maria Canevari’s original 1821 recipe is still used today.
The Maraschino cherries are completely natural, no colouring agents have been used, they are non-alcoholic and are certified Kosher. They are also delicious.
2021 sees the 200th anniversary of Luxardo products. Happy 200th birthday Luxardo!
The 400g jar of Luxardo Maraschino cherries contains around 65 cherries, and can be stored out of the fridge for months even when opened.
Retail price is £6.99 to £7.99, and stockists include: Amazon UK, TheDrinkShop.com, masterofmalt.com, Amathus, Speciality Drinks, branches of Waitrose in John Lewis, and Lakeland shops and online. luxardo.it