Black Sour Cherry Vodka

Until we moved to the Hudson Valley, I had never heard of black sour cherries. Apparently they are a big deal. Last year, we went to Cherry Ridge Farms in Hudson to pick red sour cherries about a week before the black sours were ready. We were firmly warned to stay away from the black sour trees and that if any forbidden cherries found their way into our basket, we would be charged triple the price. I expected to see armed guards protecting the trees.

If their goal was to build hype about the black sour cherries, it worked on me. I had to have some. I marked opening day on my calendar and worked out our schedule around it. Unfortunately, we got there too late. I guess they weren’t kidding when they said they went fast. By 11:30 a.m. on opening day, Cherry Ridge Farms’ trees were bare.

While standing around with our empty pail, we heard that Fix Brothers still had some, so we raced over there. As we turned up the winding road to the orchard, we started noticing cars parked on the roadside, lots of cars.

There was a bit of a frenetic energy in the air. Scores of people were scurrying around the trees, loading their buckets. I happily joined in the frenzy.

The trees were dripping with big, dark-red cherries. I started grabbing handfuls. To me, it was like the opening scene to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” — magical and gluttonous.

I asked people what they planned to do with the cherries. There were a few people, like us, who were just picking because it seemed like the thing to do. With this many people clamoring for the dark-red orbs, they must be something special. Others were picking with purpose and that purpose was black sour cherry liqueur. Prized as an elixir of sorts, the homemade beverage is a staple in many Eastern European countries, which explained all of the head scarves being worn and hard consonants being spoken.

Black sour cherries are more tart than the red ones. The tartness makes them perfect for baking or making brandy or liqueurs. Fix Brothers’ black sours are Morello cherries, which range from a medium red to a dark mahogany red. The longer they stay on the tree, the darker they get.

Like blueberries and other purplish-red fruits, sour cherries contain anthocyanins, which have powerful anti-inflammatory properties. The darker the cherries, the more anthocyanins they have. Cherries are purported to relieve painful inflammatory conditions such as gout and arthritis. Plus a cup of fresh sour cherries has 40 percent of your daily recommended allowance of vitamin A, 26 percent of vitamin C; 2 percent of calcium and 3 percent of iron. No wonder liqueur made from black sour cherries is prized!

My husband had to drag me out of the orchard. Next year, I will try to remember that we will have to pit all of the cherries we pick. Maybe that will get me out of the orchard faster.

Sour cherries are easier to pit than sweet cherries. I don’t use a cherry pitter, mainly because I don’t have one, but I also don’t think it’s necessary. Pitting sour cherries is a little messy, since they are full of juice. Wear an apron and rubber gloves if you don’t want to have to scrub your cherry-stained fingers.

After I wash the cherries, I set out two large bowls. Over one bowl, I squeeze the pit out. With a little practice, you’ll be able to remove the pit without squirting yourself with cherry juice. Then I place the pitted cherry in the second bowl. Both bowls will accumulate lots of juice. Keep that! When I’m all done, I strain the juice from both the pits and the cherries, sweeten it a tad and drink it.

Sour Cherry Infused Vodka

If you are a teetotaler, just omit the vodka, add a bit of seltzer after straining and enjoy your homemade cherry soda!

This recipe is adapted from New York Magazine.

Ingredients:

2 pounds fresh black sour cherries, washed and pitted (you may add a few stems and leaves for flavor)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 teaspoon grated nutmeg
3 cups vodka


Method

  • In a large jar with a lid, add cherries, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Crush the cherries with a wooden spoon. Seal the jar and store for a week in a dark, dry place.
  • Add vodka, reseal and shake well. Infuse for a month in a dark place, giving it a shake every three or four days.
  • Strain through a cheesecloth. Add a few cherries to a bottle or jar and fill with infused vodka.
  • Serve in small glasses, over ice or neat, either as an aperitif or a digestive.

Should keep for years, but ours didn’t last a month.

To your health!