What are: Glacé cherries

Most cherries we eat are cultivated variants of Prunus avium, common names wild cherry, sweet cherry, bird cherry, or gean. This tree is native to Europe, west Turkey, northwest Africa, and western Asia. Interestingly, except for the ripe fruit, every bit – leaf, root, bark, and wood – of a cherry tree has enough cyanide to be slightly toxic. Kindly old Mother Nature really doesn’t want you eating anything off this pretty tree except for the fruit.

Cherries and cherry blossomcherry in Latin is cerasus
cherry in Portuguese is cereja
cherry in French is cerise
cherry in Spanish is cereza
cherry in Italian is ciliegia
cherry in Catalan is cirera
cherry in Romanian is cireş
cherry in Hungarian is cseresznye
cherry in Dutch is kers
cherry in German is Kirsche
cherry in Finnish is kirsikka
cherry in Icelandic is kirsuber
cherry in Croatian is trešnja

Fresh cherries don’t really taste anything like glacé cherries. Glacé cherries are usually bright red, very sweet, and sort of look like a cartoon of a cherry: they’re sweet with a slightly bitter flavour. They keep their colour even after being baked – making them ideal for recipes like Christmas bread-and-butter pudding or an old-fashioned cherry cake. They’re also wonderful for decorating cakes and muffins, with their bright clear colour.

So what are glacé cherries?

“For me, cherries are a bit nostalgic, the flavor of cooked cherries, of smashing the pits gently on a granite stone outside to remove the little almond (cherry?) flavored kernals found in each seed that give the preserves and jam that classic bitter almond flavor that many of us associate with cherries that have been cooked the ‘proper way’.” – Matt Mattus, “Cherries!”

Fresh cherries ripen early but have a very short season, and once the cherries have been stoned they have to be cooked or preserved directly. Most old-style cookbooks have recipes for preserving cherries, of which one of the simplest methods is to put the cherries in a jar, add sugar, and cover with alcohol. Mrs Beeton suggests brandy. A dear friend swears by cherry vodka. (Or of course, jam, which has the significant advantage of being much nicer on toast than either cherry vodka or cherry brandy.)

But the great example of cherry preserves is maraschino cherries. The original marasca cherries were a variant of tart Morello cherries grown in Croatia. Marasca cherries were used as the basis for a liqueur – the cherry stones were crushed and included to give the cherry liqueur a slightly bitter almond flavour – and then the maraschino liqueur was used to preserve the fresh marasca cherries in future years: so making the flavour of the liqueur and of the preserved cherries all the more intense.

But today a maraschino cherry isn’t a species of cherry or even a boozy treat, it’s usually a sweet light-fleshed cherry (such as Royal Ann, Rainier, or Gold) that’s first preserved in brine (usually containing sulfur dioxide and calcium chloride, which bleaches the fruit further) and then re-soaked in a suspension of sugar syrup and – usually – a bright red food colouring.

To make glacé cherries you take maraschino cherries and candy them in sugar syrup. You can get glacé cherries that haven’t had the bleaching / recolouring treatment, and they look dark red – rather than bright light red.

You can also get dried morello cherries … or buy a cake.

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