If Food Could Drink #3:
If Food Could Drink is an ongoing Beltramo’s blog feature with the aim of showcasing the multitude possibilities for cooking with beer, wine, and spirits. Recipes include anything from appetizers to entrees to deserts and range in complexity, but always with the goal of encouraging readers to explore the nuances and versatility of alcohol in the kitchen. Eat, Drink, and be Merry!
“Rum, n. Generically, fiery liquors that produce madness in total abstainers.” – Ambrose Bierce
It’s summer time and perhaps this year you got a bumper crop of fruits and veggies from your garden. Or maybe you enjoy prowling farmer’s markets for the freshest produce out there. But as summer wears on into fall, you might be thinking of how one might go about capturing these fantastical tastes and saving them for the months ahead.
Using Brandy is one classic method for preserving fruit well deserved of attention. Brandied Cherries have long been a cornerstone of the cocktailing world and I believe that our culture is all the better because of this. I happen to love cherries and wanted to take on the techniques of altering this fruit with alcohol, but I wanted to throw in a curve ball. Indeed, I wanted to take the road less traveled. I thought long and hard about the art of the Brandied Cherry and the ingredients used in typical recipes. What it comes down to, as with all cooking, food preparation, or mixology, is balance of flavors. In the end, you can use nearly any liquor (or liqueur) to preserve all manner of fruit, and so instead of Brandy, I opted for Dark Rum. For the starting point of my culinary experiment I chose one of my current favorites, El Dorado Cask Aged 5 Years Rum ($17.99).
When choosing the spices to put in your fruity potion you want to consider two things. The first is what flavors will bind well with the liquor you have selected as your base. For instance, with the aforementioned Brandied Cherries it is common to incorporated cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg. To highlight the flavors of Dark Rum I decided to nix the cinnamon and nutmeg, retain the dark spice of the clove, and add in cardamom, a healthy dose of allspice, and vanilla bean.
The second concern in choosing spices lies in how you plan to use the altered and elevated cherries once you’re finished. I had big dreams for what I might do with my future cherries, but more on that later.
The method to the madness:
- 1 ½ lbs. fresh cherries
- ¾ cup sugar
- ¾ cup water
- 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
- 2 whole cloves
- 6 whole allspice
- 4 cardamom pods
- 1 vanilla bean
- 1 cup El Dorado Cask Aged 5 Years Rum
Pit your cherries. Yes, this will take forever and might give you a hand cramp, but just go for it anyway and eat a few cherries along the way to make the job a little easier on yourself. You will then want to slice your vanilla bean down the middle and scrape out the dark, gooey mush from the inside. The goo is what you want to use for this recipe, but don’t throw away the husk of the bean because it’s still packed with vanilla flavor from all the oils in its skin (Tip: put the scraped bean pod into a spare jar of sugar. Even after only a day or two the sugar will have a powerful aroma and flavor of vanilla that can enhance many future recipes).
Bring the water, sugar, lemon juice, and your spices to a boil in a medium saucepan. Once boiling, reduce heat and let the mixture simmer for about 10 minutes. This is essentially just a flavored simple syrup. Cooking slightly longer here will thicken the mixture a little and result in more syrupy cherries. Be careful not to go too long, however, because you can burn this fairly easily. It’s worth mentioning here that many of the store bought brands have a more viscous consistency because they use thickening agents in their recipes, such as gelatin or tapioca powder.
After the mixture has reduced slightly, remove the pan from the heat and carefully stir in the cherries and the Rum. Let the flavors meld together for a few minutes while continuing to stir. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cherries to a sterilized jar approximately 1 quart in size, then pour the liquid from the sauce pan over the cherries and seal on the lid. After the mixture has cooled, put it in a cool, dark place such as a cupboard and let rest for at least a month. Once opened, the jar should be kept in the refrigerator.
The way these cherries taste after all is said and done is almost indescribable. Each of the individual spice characters are there, but they’ve come together to be much greater than the sum of their parts. There’s a deep earthiness to the spice notes that plays off the woodiness of the Rum. The Rum’s rich molasses notes flirt with the luscious vanilla bean nuances. The allspice kicks up the Caribbean flare. The flavors linger on the tongue for a very long time after the cherry is gone, and it’s slightly numbing in a very pleasant way.
I definitely like to use these Rum Cherries in a variety of cocktails because they’re so dynamic while most garnishes tend to be passive. This will work in your favorite Manhattan, even though these cherries are Rum-based. There are more than enough vanilla and spice notes to make it work, plus that little something extra to make your taste buds sit up and take notice. If you really want to get decadent though, I suggest that you incorporate these Rum Cherries into the dessert at your end-of-the-summer barbeque. Dish up some bowls of vanilla ice-cream, add on some sliced nectarines and assorted berries, then add a few of these cherries on top and drizzle on some of the syrup from the jar. Can you say, “Food Coma”?
Neal F., Beltramo’s Spirits Staff