I love the bright red cherries that you get at the grocery store for $2. I really, really love them.
But a few summers ago, I made some "real" maraschino cherries using the good stuff: Luxardo Maraschino liqueur, and was blown away by the results. These guys are absolutely nothing like the ones you grew up with: they're boozy, rich, and complex, instead of just sweet and syrupy like the grocery store version.
The Key Ingredient
Make sure you get this bottle!
To make these, you need maraschino liqueur. It's a traditional Italian liqueur made from sour mascara cherries and their pits. You'll find it's not very sweet and a little bitter.
The most famous brand, also considered the best tasting, is Luxardo, but it can be a bit tough to track down. In Manhattan, they sell it at Astor Place Wines & Spirits, and in Brooklyn I've always had luck at Heights Chateau on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn Heights. It'll run you about $28/bottle in the NYC area.
Luxardo also makes a very expensive jar of maraschino cherries that you can buy at fancy grocery stores. I've spied them at Court Street Grocers, but haven't had the guts to pay the $20 to try them.
I used a simplified recipe originally drawn from Serious Eats, and it's pretty easy even if you hate cooking.
This is why you buy a cherry pitter.
First, prep 1lb of cherries by washing and pitting them.
I don't have a cherry pitter, and I still haven't found a great workaround, but lately I've been using the handle a plastic fork to dig out the pit. It sometimes destroys the cherry but it usually gets the job done. Other geniuses on the internet suggest using a paper clip, smashing it like garlic, or just plain old using a knife.
Once they're pitted, throw together in a pot:
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
squeeze lemon juice
some vanilla extract
When the syrup boils, throw in a the pitted cherries and cook for 5-7 minutes.
Finally, take them off the heat and add 1 cup of the Luxardo Maraschino (or any maraschino liqueur). Let them cool and store them in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. At this point, I also added a couple dashes of meyer lemon bitters, for no other reason than that I had them on hand and there was already some lemon juice in the recipe.