Preserving Summer Cherries and Blueberries for Cocktails

cherries 2015
cherries 2015

All photos by Amanda Schuster. 

There’s a reason no one writes love songs about endless winters and cold, dreary days. Even when it’s hot and muggy, summer is hands down, feet in the sand more fun. “Hot Fun in the Summertime,” “Summer Breeze,” “Sunny Afternoon,” Under the Boardwalk”... summer is the year’s time to frolic, to travel, to explore and fun to eat and relax with a drink.

One of the best parts about summer is the abundance of fresh, vibrant produce, especially cherries and berries. A couple of years ago I wrote about how to make the most of the last of the green market sour cherries for your cocktails. This year, (perhaps age really does have its advantages?), I have my act together a little sooner.

A trip to the farmer’s market yields an abundance of goodies, not just those coveted sour cherries, which will only be available for a couple more weeks. It’s also blueberry season. - the best blueberries you’ll eat all year. Might as well make them last by preserving those in booze too!  Why should cherries get all the attention?

A cherry pitter is a worthwhile investment!
A cherry pitter is a worthwhile investment!

Here are two recipes for preserving sour cherries for cocktails, as well as a bonus recipe for brandied blueberries you can use for cocktail garnishes or however you want to consume boozy fruit (no judgements here, especially if you eat them with ice cream or spread them on toast with some soft cheese). The cherries have the lasting potential of seven months to a year if kept sealed tightly in the fridge. However, the blueberries are more fragile. It's best to consume these within the week for best results. Although the worst that can happen is they ferment a bit or lose their shape, in which case you could always turn them into a boozy jam, sauce, crumble or pie filling.

For the cherry recipes, you could also substitute sweet cherries for the sour ones, but use only half the sugar syrup than the recipe calls for.

It is crucial that you sterilize your jars before using! Boil for at 15 minutes and keep them in the boiled water until ready to use.

rum and rye cherries 2015
rum and rye cherries 2015

Rum Vanilla Cocktail Cherries

  • 1 lb/.45 kg Sour Cherries (pitted or with pits, you weigh the merits. Personally I like them pitted and have invested in a cherry/olive pitter which has completely changed my life.)
  • ½ cup/100 grams Sugar (granulated or demerara)
  • ½ cup/118 mL Water
  • 1 cup/236 mL Dark or Gold Rum
  • 1 Vanilla Bean
  • 1 Stick Cinnamon (optional)

Heat the sugar and cinnamon, if using, in the water on low until sugar is dissolved. Add the cherries and vanilla. Stir gently to coat. Add the rum and stir again. Allow to cool. Place in jar with a tight seal. Turn upside down once or twice. Store in refrigerator for at least 12 hours before using.

Rye and Amaro Cocktail Cherries

brandied blueberries
brandied blueberries
  • 1 lb/.45 kg Sour Cherries
  • ½ cup/100 grams sugar (granulated or demerara. I used demerara for my supply.)
  • ½ cup/118 mL  water
  • ¾ cup/177 mL Rye (don’t use one that’s too spicy or it will overpower the recipe. I went for Alberta Dark Batch, but you could also use Bulleit, Woodford Reserve, Old Overholt, Knob Creek, etc.) You could also use bourbon here.
  • ¼ cup/59 mL Amaro (use one that’s on the more berried sweet side, such as Mirto, Nonino, Luxardo Amaro Abano, Montenegro or Cardamaro)
  • 1 stick Cinnamon (this time use it)
  • 3 scrapes Grated Nutmeg

Heat the sugar and spices with water on low until sugar is dissolved. Add the cherries. Add the booze. Do the stirring, cooling and jarring as above.

Brandied Blueberries

  • 1 pint/.57 kg Blueberries, rinsed and de-stemmed
  • ⅓ cup/76 grams Sugar
  • ⅓ cup/79 mL Water
  • 1 long piece, about an inch, Lemon Rind
  • ¾ cup/177 mL Dark brandy (Spanish brandy, Cognac, American brandy, you could even use aged Pisco)
  • ¼ cup/59 mL Bénédictine liqueur (you could also omit this ingredient and do this with just the aged brandy)

Heat the sugar and lemon in water till the sugar is dissolved. Add the blueberries and stir gently to coat. Add the booze. Stir again. Allow to cool. Discard the lemon rind before preserving in jar.