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.
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.
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