Sour Cherry Syrup and Spritzer

After a month of anticipation, I finally got my hands on some fresh sour cherries last week. I needed them in order to make a recipe on the menu of my upcoming Persian cooking class. The recipe is for a simple sour cherry spritzer, the base of which is sour cherry syrup. Because a key element of Persian cuisine is sourness, sour cherries are naturally quite popular, and are used in making Persian rice, soups, and beverages. Luckily for me, this beautiful ingredient doesn’t have to be flown in from Central Asia, it’s available right here at the farmer’s market.

Sour cherries are perishable; they can’t maintain their pale and glowing perfection for extended periods of time in transit or on store shelves, which is why you don’t see them in supermarkets. But their taste is brighter and more complex than Bing cherries, which are the sweet, deeply red colored variety that you usually see in stores. Sour cherries are the preferred choice for pie baking, and are great in cobblers because their sourness balances the sweetness of the cobbler topping. I like the natural tartness of sour cherries, and will happily flavor a glass of water with a couple of crushed cherries, no sugar added, the same way I would use a lemon. Why not make a fresh sour cherry relish — the same way you would prepare a cranberry relish at Thanksgiving — and serve it with grilled fish or chicken? Sour cherries freeze well, so if you don’t have time to cook these seasonal treasures now, pit them and freeze them on pans, then toss them in a container and keep them in the freezer for up to a year.

This recipe is very simple and to the point: You simply cook the cherries with sugar and water to make a thick syrup, that can then be used to flavor a drink. Time is saved and flavor is gained by leaving the pits in the cherries when you cook them. Cherry pits have a potent flavor, that comes from the molecule benzaldehyde, also found in bitter almonds, and the pits of peaches and apricots, so leaving them in makes the syrup even more rich. Once you’ve cooked the cherries, you briefly blend the fruit and cooking liquid in a blender in order to separate the pits from the flesh, and then strain the syrup through a strainer. You’re left with a smooth, thick syrup that’s a deep cherry-red in color.

Once the syrup is made, you can spread it on toast, drizzle it over yogurt, or use it as the base of a sauce or salad dressing. A simple way to use it is in a spritzer, brightened with a little lime juice. Because  of its pretty pink color, this somehow seems like a perfect drink to serve at a little girl’s birthday party. As a big girl, I’d be tickled pink to substitute champagne for the seltzer and enjoy a few glasses with friends. Sour cherries are generally available through the first half of July.

Recipe: Sour Cherry Spritzers

Makes 1 ½ cups sour cherry syrup, enough for 24 spritzers

4 cups or 1 ½ lbs sour cherries

2 cups water

2 cups evaporated cane juice

¼ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon lime juice

1 cup seltzer

Rinse and stem the cherries. Place them in a large sautée pan with the water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat slightly and add the sugar and salt, and stir to dissolve. Boil gently, uncovered, for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Take the mixture off of the heat and allow to cool slightly. Pour the mixture into a blender and blend for 30 seconds, just enough to separate the pits from the cherries. Set a fine mesh strainer over a large bowl. Pour the blended cherries through the strainer, pushing them through with the back of a ladle. Discard the pits. Allow the syrup to cool to room temperature.

To make the spritzer: In the bottom of a glass, stir together 1 tablespoon syrup, 1 tablespoon water, and 1 tablespoon lime juice. Add ice, and pour in 1 cup of seltzer or champagne.

Store the syrup in a sealed glass jar in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.

9 thoughts on “Sour Cherry Syrup and Spritzer

  1. This looks lovely, but we never, ever get fresh sour cherries where I live. I have seen dried sour cherries, though, and I'm wondering if I could concoct some kind of syrup out of those.

  2. Your syrup looks beautiful, like a giant, glissening ruby. I also don't see sour cherries in the stores where I live. But, I am hoping to go to a farmer's market near where my parents live (Minneapolis) in a couple of weeks to see if I can't find some there.

  3. Hi Heron, not to worry! I think dried sour cherries would work beautifully. I'd use the same approach as in the recipe above, with a few changes: First, use 1 cup water for each cup of sour cherries. Measure out the cherries and water and soak them together overnight at room temp, then cook as above. Taste for sweetness and adjust the sugar as necessary, then blend in a blender until smooth. Do not strain the syrup.

    If you try this, please share the results!

  4. Hi Helen, using currants instead of sour cherries is a great idea. I think currants are a little more sour than sour cherries, so you may need to adjust the sugar. Please let me know if you make red currant syrup, and how it turns out!

  5. I'm so happy to have gotten my hands on some sour cherries this year and this drink looks amazing. I've soaked some already in bourbon so I'm sure a splash of my cherrified bourbon would be great in this drink.

  6. I'm so happy to have gotten my hands on some sour cherries this year and this drink looks amazing. I've soaked some already in bourbon so I'm sure a splash of my cherrified bourbon would be great in this drink.

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