dried cherries in grappa recipe from The Improvisational Cook
photo: sally schneider

Interior designer Suzanne Shaker recently sent this email:

Sally, I’m craving your cherries in grappa. Would you please post the recipe again, as it is that time of year ..our last year’s supply is just about finished.

I’m making them for gifts as you always do.

A gift that lasts and brings such joy to the table.

I serve them in little green Moroccan glasses from John Derian, that we fill with the cherries and grappa and eat with a small spoon as we sip the syrup ..so comforting.

Suzanne is referring to the Dried Cherries in Red Wine Syrup recipe I devised years ago and published in The Improvisational Cook. (Last year, I gave her a huge jar to thank her for advising me on my apartment renovation.)  They can be eaten as-is for a lovely, non-alcoholic,cherries-in-winter treat. Better yet, spike them with grappa, the clear Italian alcohol distilled from grape pressings. Somehow the earthy flavor of grappa marries with the cherries in an extraordinary way. Then they become a perfect, slightly boozy end to a meal, or a sleep-inducing midnight snack.

The recipe could not be easier. Plump the cherries in a syrup made of sugar, red wine, water, vanilla bean and a shaving or two of lemon zest. Let cool. Spike with grappa or dark rum if you like. I make big batches to give as gifts, packed in canning jars with a label (below) that tells how to keep, eat and use them. Since dried cherries can be expensive, I’ve hunted down two sources on Amazon that is good value in bulk: Stoneridge Orchards and Traverse Bay Fruit Company.

dried cherries in grappa recipe from The Improvisational Cook
photo: sally schneider

Here’s a label I print out to attach to jars. Use a hole puncher to punch a hole in the top left corner, then put a pretty twine through it to tie around the neck of the jar.


Recipe: Dried Cherries in Red Wine, Grappa or Dark Rum Syrup

In this play on Prunes in Armagnac, I steeped dried cherries in a syrup made with red instead of water, to punch of the red fruit flavor and add a bit of acidity. Since the wine’s alcohol gets cooked off, it’s is great nonalcoholic alternative, especially splashed on vanilla ice cream to make instant cherry-vanilla. Spiking the cherries-in-syrup further revealed two intoxicating combinations, one made with dark, aged rum, mild and caramelly; another made with grappa, distilled from grape pressings, earthy and primal. Both these combinations become a great deal more than the sum of their parts and are addictive, the perfect gift for those friends who have everything. Makes about 5 cups. You can scale up the recipe many times.

In a medium non-reactive saucepan, combine 2 cups fruity, full-bodied red wine, 1 cup water, 6 tablespoons sugar and 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped. Bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. With a vegetable peeler, shave one or two strips of lemon zest off a lemon (Meyer lemons are even better) and throw that in.

Stir in 1/2 pound dried cherries, turn off the heat and cover 5 minutes. Uncover and set aside to cool. If necessary, add a little fresh lemon juice to heighten the flavor. Transfer the cherries and their liquid to a clean, dry jar. If desired, add 1 to 1 1/4 cups grappa or dark rum. Cover, refrigerate and set aside to mellow at least 1 week. Taste the cherries periodically and add more alcohol as necessary. Stored in the refrigerator, the cherries will last months.

Related posts: d-i-y food gift: prunes in armagnac (recipe)
design (or hack) your own holiday e-cards
double-duty gifts with heart (and a card)
food gifts: homemade chocolates for improvising (recipe)
our homemade food gifts on ‘the splendid table’
homemade food gift: alt-malted milk balls

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6 replies on “diy food gift: dried cherries in red wine or grappa syrup

  1. Sally – would you still have the same serving suggestions on the card if you were gifting the spiked cherries? I used a great dark rum and these are now a new holiday tradition for me! SO good!

  2. Hi Margaret, a great dark rum w the cherries sounds GREAT!. Suggestions for using them really depend on how highly you spike them as in some of the preparation (a turnover for example) the alcohol won’t cook off much. I’ve cooked Prunes in Armagnac into a turnover and it was swell. Generally, I’d say most of the suggestions will work EXCEPT for making a vinegar. That’s uncharted territory. It could be great or most likely would be Clash of the Titans. I hope this helps.

  3. Thank you so much for this post, which inspired me to try yet another great recipe from The Improvised Life. I have annotated my copy of the book to add the lemon juice, which I think is crucial. I made a double batch of these just before Christmas and they made absolutely wonderful gifts. I was initially concerned that they would need more sugar, but the amount was just perfect, allowing the flavor of the vanilla to really come up front. I used dark rum, which was so yummy. One friend used them for the Cherry in her Manhattans. This will definitely encourage me to try your apricots with cardamom, which have intrigued me for years.

  4. Thanks so much for letting me know of your tweeks to the recipe. A dash of lemon juice often is the perfect thing to lift flavors. And I love the idea of using the cherries in a Manhattan. I’ve got a batch, and will try (hic). I do recommend the aprictos in cardamom: they become like the fresh fruit, in winter. Essential to use California, not Turkish apricots however.

  5. Sally – wondering if you’ve tried this with the dried tart Montgomery cherries from Costco? Kirkland brand. economical, $15 for 20 oz bag. Allows me to splurge on locally produced (Maui) vanilla bean from the farmers market…

  6. Although I haven’t tried their cherries, I find Costco’s Kirkland brand to be very reliable. Have used their prunes for the prunes in Armagnac. I’d buy a package and taste em. You don’t want ones that are too sugary. That being said, if they are, you can probable balance the sweet with lemon juice in their syrup. The best deal I’ve found for cherries is at Traverse Bay Fruit Co. Dried Cherries, 4-Pound Box” target=”_blank”>Traverse Bay at Amazon.
    Let me know how the Kirkland ones are if you try em. And the vanilla beans sound DIVINE!

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