Channel your inner granny

Now, by “granny” I mean the kind of person who has a china hutch with little figurines inside. And under that there is a cupboard where there might be some bottles sitting in the dark. And if you have been a pleasing guest, the cupboard might be opened and a bottle pulled out and opened. Tiny stemmed glasses will be pulled out from among the china dogs and shepherd girls, and a dark ruby liquid proffered. It is sweet and spicy and there is a warm memory of alcohol in your throat when you drink it. It’s so — sour cherry liqueur.

Sour cherry season is here again, and although I have nothing against sweet cherries, this is the time of year that I really wait for. Now, personally I can find no higher purpose for sour cherries than a pie (and I just made a humdinger of one using this recipe from the venerable Bartolini Kitchens. Go look at this recipe just to see the beautiful top crust of the pie. Breath taking!) Ali, on the other hand, is partial to a little glass of cherry liqueur from time to time, so I make it every year. The best thing about this recipe is that you don’t have to pit the cherries, because everyone knows how fiddly a job that is. And aside from that, it’s easy to do and it tastes good. It does take a while, though, so it is not for those in a hurry. Grannies have to be patient.

I got the recipe from a website called Uçan Martı (Flying Seagull), which seems to have folded in 2010. However, the original post (in Turkish) is still here, so you can look at it if you like (and you will see one of those little glasses I was talking about). I used this recipe because I wanted to ferment the cherries a bit. The recipe is for one kilo of cherries (2.2 lb), but obviously you can adjust the amounts.

Sour Cherry Liquer


1 kg (2.2 lb) sour cherries

500 g (1.1 lb) sugar

12 whole cloves

4-5 cinnamon sticks

1 glass (250 ml or 1 cup) vodka, or alcohol of your choice

1. Stem the cherries, but don’t pit them. Give them a rinse.

2. Put the cherries in a big glass jar in layers — cherries, sugar, cherries, sugar, until they are all in there. Screw on the lid tightly and let it sit in a sunny spot for one month (the author of the original post sensibly advises that you put a label with the date on the jar).

This may look like a lot of sugar, and that is because it is. However, a lot of it will become alcohol. Not all of it, by any means — it is a sweet drink — but don’t be too alarmed by the amount of sugar.


3. After a month, it will be juicy in the jar, and you can add your spices. Tie them up in a cheese cloth and throw them in. Then close the jar and let it sit another month.

This is after just a week of sunbathing, and already things are getting pretty liquidy. The smell is enough to bring tears to your eyes, too.
This is after just a week of sunbathing, and already things are getting pretty liquidy. The smell is enough to bring tears to your eyes, too.

4. Now that you have patiently waited two months, your liqueur is ready to drink. This is also the moment that the vodka has been waiting for. Fish out the spices in their swaddling and pour in the vodka – you are now ready for bottling!

And the cherries? Well, there are several ways to approach them. If you strain them out, you could freeze them and then use them in cake (I like them very much in my fill in the blanks cake) or you could just put them in a jar and cover them with liqueur and serve them. I bet you could cover them in chocolate! Mmmm… Of course, if you do anything like that, you ought to pit them, or at least warn your friends before they dig in.

While the sugar is melting, it's a bit like snow in slow motion, which is a nice chilly visual for these sultry days.
While the sugar is melting, it’s a bit like snow in slow motion, which is a nice chilly visual for these sultry days.

p.s. — I would love to say that I made this with cherries from our garden, but we harvested exactly 4 cherries from our sour cherry tree this year. Maybe some other time. These ones I bought from a jolly old lady in the market. Come to think of it, she could have been someone’s granny…

UPDATE (20/07/14)
i’ve made two slight adjustments to my original method of making cherry liqueur. One is that I now leave some of the cherry stems on to add flavor. The other adjustment I made after enjoying this post over at Rachel Eats and reading “…how the heat of high summer halts fermentation but precipitates maceration. ” and having one of those moments like you see in films where a montage of events flashes before you — bottles of cherry liqueur on terraces in full sun at my mother in law’s house and at other homes I have visited.

20140720-133759-49079420.jpg“The liqueur will sit in the full, blazing sun!” I cries, and that is where it is for the month.


85 thoughts on “Channel your inner granny

  1. I am so glad you like the pie! I was planning on buying cherries to make another — and then I saw you cherry liqueur. I must make it! I’ll be driving home next week and I think you’ve just convinced me to take a detour into Michigan’s tart cherry country to buy cherries. This liqueur would make great gifts this Christmas. Do you know about how much cherry liqueur results from 1 kilo of cherries? I need to know if I have to rent a truck to bring back enough cherries. 😉
    Thank you for sharing this recipe and especially for your gracious mention of my blog. I very much appreciate it.

    1. Tart cherry country sounds like my kind of place! I can’t really remember how much actual liqueur I get from a kilo of cherries, but I bet you could count on a litre. It also depends on how you pack it – with cherries (my preference) or without. You’re right – it would be a great gift. I might have to go back to the woman I got them from; she said they’d be even better next week (after I bought my huge sack of them, of course).

      1. I’m back from the market, loaded with cherries. One thing, though, I cannot seem to find when you add the vodka to the cherries. Did I miss something? Thanks! 🙂

      2. Ooh I forgot to write that bit! Never mind, it’s not needed until the end. Add it after the two month fermentation/spice infusion, right before bottling. I think it just helps to preserve it – this stuff lasts forever! Thanks so much for pointing that out; I’ll correct it in the post.

  2. Serhan K.

    Hi and Hello from the lovely Princes’ Island to y’all at Ulupinar

    I made three different versions of sour cherry liqueur last year – with vodka, with pure alcohol and with no alcohol at all. Before making the liqueur, I had asked Mom –who is known as a multitalented cook in her neighbourhood– how she used to make it and she had recommended that I use no alcohol at all. To my surprise, the version with no alcohol came out to be the best liqueur I have ever tasted! It had put a lovely grin on all our faces at last year’s liqueur testing party… The one with vodka made us all cheerful and we started laughing… On the other hand, one with the pure alcohol version tasted like poison so I had to throw it away.

    Wish all you guys a lovely Summer. I am looking forward to tasting the Liqueur 🙂


    1. This is so interesting to read — in the original recipe it said that you could use pure alcohol, and I wondered what that would be like; I can’t say I am surprised by your verdict (I wonder if there might be some horticultural application for industrial strength liqueur…)! And a liqueur tasting party sounds like the ideal example of a bon vivant’s scientific method.
      I am also very happy to hear that you are on the islands – it must be a peaceful change of pace after Istanbul. Take deep breaths.
      I hope we see you here soon, and come fall there will be liqueur on offer…

      1. Serhan K.

        The Island was indeed a good choice – kids having fun, swimming on our semi-private beach, riding their bikes: and adults having a peaceful state of mind, admiring the forest and observing how tranquility can be possible within the boundaries of the city.

        Come fall, we will be around for the festival and stop by for a sampling visit 🙂

        All The Best.

    2. Joanie

      I make 40 Days in the Sun Cherry Liqueur without added liquor- old Italian recipe. My cherries are pitted as I love adding them to fudge after the ferment process is over. Might try adding spices this year though.

  3. What a shame your sour cherry harvest was limited to just 4 cherries! I wish it was cherry season here as this looks like a great thing to do with an abundance of cherries xx

    1. Probably we will be drinking this when you get cherries in season. I’ll have to post a photo of a glass of liqueur to remind you! Our trees are young still – I expect great piles of fruit from them in years to come.

    2. Gerry

      My mother used to do this drink, she called it “Guindado” as I remember it was delicious.
      We had a sour cherry tree in the patio that produced tons of extremly tart and sour cherries.
      Im 61 now and I remember the taste like it was yesterday.
      A blast from the past.

  4. Oh I have to make it too.. but the cherries are almost done! I will climb the tree today and see if I can find another two pounds.. Oh how I wish i had known about this one a few weeks ago! I should have popped in earlier! c

    1. Well, if you end up with anything more than a handful, I’d say just make it anyway – 2 parts cherries to one part sugar and you can adjust all the rest of the ingredients accordingly. Even a little mason jar of liqueur would brighten a few winter evenings.

  5. I too was looking for instructions on when to add the vodka. This is so interesting and for me, doable. Will be looking out for sour cherries in the market.

    1. I hope you find them – this really is just about the easiest thing you can do with them! The vodka doesn’t go in until the very end, after the two months of fermenting are complete. I think it is more of a preservative than anything else. Add it right before you bottle your liqueur.

    1. I hope I am not too late in replying- I have been offline for a spell. I would just take the mouldy ones out and give the whole thing a shake.nit might be that a regular stir would help prevent mold – there is so much sugar in the jar, it ought to keep such things in check. I hope his helps!

  6. My cherries have been sitting almost two months and I opened the jar the other day to give them a stir- the smell was FOUL… Is this normal? 🙂 Thanks!

  7. Tracy

    Hi! Our cherry tree finally produced a decent crop of cherries this summer. But… I had to take the liqueur in in late September (we get temps here between -1degree celsius to 24 degrees during the day, and I wasn’t sure if the liqueur could go through those kinds of swings). Long story short, I put it away in the cupboard and now that it’s time to add the vodka and bottle, there’s a layer of mould on top! Can I skim it off? Is it ruined? I was really looking forward to making Dirty Shirley Temples with it (or Edith Temples, Shirley’s rebel sister).

  8. Pingback: Two Cellos and a Cherry to Toast the New Year | from the Bartolini kitchens

  9. Beverley

    You said to leave in a sunny spot…do you mean a sunny spot outside (very hot) or a sunny spot in the house? I actually layered a large jar full…one inch cherries and then one inch sugar and so on but did not measure. Can you have too many cherries?

    1. A sunny windowsill will do, although I do know of people who put their out on the terrace. The main thing is, if they are tucked away in a dark cool cupboard I think the sugar might not melt as quickly. I don’t know about having too many cherries. I would imagine that as long as there is enough sugar in there to keep things from getting funky, you should be okay. (And having said that, things start to smell pretty pungent in there after the first month, so don’t be alarmed.) But from what you have described, I think you’ll be fine. I hope it turns out well — do let me know!

  10. Brian

    After you add the vodka do you do you then age it further in the large batch or go right to bottles? Also, how do you handle removing sediment? Or do you leave that in as well? Thank you!

    1. I bottle it when I add the vodka, and I keep the cherries in. The sediment I leave behind. I’ll be posting a quick update to the recipe this week – keep the bottle in full sun while the cherries are macerating! Hope this helps…

  11. I am going to make this recipe this weekend and I was wondering what are the cloves you are supposed to add in the recipe?

  12. Jantos

    This liqueur has become a tradition for my sour cherry harvest three years running. With an old tree that gives me tons of fruit each year (lucky, I know) this is the #1 recipe I’ve found to get rid of cherries in volume. The final product is amazing and only gets better with age. Thank you for sharing this!

  13. SailingLotus

    Has anyone ever used Rum instead of vodka ? My Sister-in-Law in Germany makes Blackberry Liqueur with Rum and it is excellent

  14. lis

    My batch just finished after 2 months of waiting not-very-patiently! It’s amazing stuff. But I have, I guess, a technical question. The result came out super sweet– delicious and full of cherry goodness, but very sweet. I figured the fermentation would be more complete. If I want a dryer cherry liqueur, could I do a second fermentation, add more yeast and wait some more?

    1. I am not sure that I have a very well informed answer but what I can tell you is this – batches not left in full sun become far boozier and less sweet in my experience. I guess that the current batch is sugary enough that yeast would have a field day. A more impatient approach might be to add more vodka…

  15. Karen

    I am giving this recipe a go with the sour cherries from our tree. The recipe says that you put the lid on tight but is there a need to have it on a little loose to release some of the gas build up? Was this an issue? The only glass jars I have are canning jars so I split it up between the jars. My husband fears that I am in some sort of foul experiment and that the jars will explode. Thoughts?

    1. I always use giant jars so I have never had a problem. If you are worries about explosions, I’d suggest using cheesecloth or an old napkin as a “lid”. Anyway, keeping the jars in the blazing sun should inhibit fermentation. I hope it turns out, and I have to admit to being a little jealous of your tree! Ours is young and malcontent, and yields a small handful of fruits a year – I still have to buy in sour cherries for the annual liqueur supply…

      1. Karen

        Thanks! We have had our tree for 5 years and this was our first big yield. But to my dismay all of the cherries appear to have been invaded by the Asian fruit fly – still relatively new in British Columbia. Instead of waiting for the fruit to rot and lay their eggs they go into just ripening fruit and the larvae eat the fruit as it ripens. We pulled 10 lbs of fruit of the tree and am finding ways to work with the best of it. 5 lbs went to liqueur…I figure a little bit of protein in there won’t hurt

      2. Karen

        Yesterday was the end of my two month waiting period. It is FANTASTIC! Thanks for the recipe! Have you used this method with other fruit? I see lots of recipes that start with fruit in alcohol and it is kept in a dark room and then a simple syrup is added. I think this method is way better.

      3. I am so happy to hear that your wait was worth it! I have not tried any other fruits but I have heard of someone doing something similar with raspberries, which must be out of this world!

    2. Sarah Kisko

      I have the same concern. I decided to just open the lid once a day for now and let off any gas. I split the recipe between two jars as well, but I put one outside in the sunniest part of the yard and one is inside on a windowsill that gets sun about half the day. Every time I open it a big whoosh comes out…so I might change the inside one over to a cloth “lid” to reduce the chance of explosion. I’m so excited to try this recipe; it’s hard to be patient for two months!

  16. Jillannajoy

    Has anyone used Nanking cherries for this? I had an abundance so I decided to give it a shot. I am a month into my wait, but unfortunately being in central Alberta, the sunny weather is quickly disappearing. Hopefully a semi-sunny window will allow the final month to be a success 🙂

    1. Sarah Kisko

      I just finished a batch with my Nankings. We had an early crop this year (I’m in Calgary) and I did one jar outside and one jar in a sunny window. They both turned out great. So delicious! I am really impressed. I just need to find a nice jar to put it into for pouring, as I have it only in a canning jar for the moment.

      1. Nancy Wilson

        A co-worker shared a pail of Nanking cherries with me today. I was thinking of making a liqueur. Did you use the above recipe?

  17. Hilary

    Do you have information if this type of sugar/fruit blend could be used with other fruits? When I look up fruit liqueur recipes they usually start off with alcohol but I like the idea of the Punk Domestic recipe. I can envision making a concord grape liqueur – yum!

    1. I am fairly certain that it would though I wonder if you could use less sugar on a sweeter fruit like grapes? There is a very good book with a very inelegant name (Preserving Good Without Freezing or Canning) that might throw some light on the matter – if I can find my copy I’ll take a peek.

  18. Anna

    I pitted my cherries and just read your article again to not pit my cherries. Why can’t I pit the cherries? I thought it was to add a nutty flavor which I didn’t want.

  19. Deb

    I have layered my cherries and sugar in a large jar and placed it in the sun. After only one day the sugar began to melt. Then I began to wonder, if I leave the jar outside during the jar outside during the night, inside will cool off. So I brought it inside and the next day was overcast….no sun. Does it matter if the jar of cherries is left in an environment where the night cools and where it might not be sunny for days? Also, can the lid be removed occasionally or must it stay on.

    1. I think it’ll be okay, though the sun is supposed to prevent the sugar from fermenting, so it might actually be a good thing to open the lid now and again – if things start to get too alcoholic in there, a little air will help prevent explosions! Having said all this, I didn’t use to keep my jar in direct sun every day and I was happy with the results.

  20. Andrea

    Made your recipe with Nanking Cherries. It is truly delicious. No vodka necessary.Thank you for sharing. It is warming this winter night in Ohio. 💗☮️

  21. Cherry Mama

    I have got to say, making this recipe three years in a row has been AMAZING! I have a friend with two sour cherry trees that yeilds a huge amount of fruit every year, and she lets me have them all! The kids and I pit all of them in a day, making pie fillings, jams, and for the rest we turn into this liquor. Boy is it great. Here in IL we do deal with fruit flies, but once the fermentation process is done with and it’s strained, you can’t even tell they were there. If you really hate the thought of them, try soaking the cherries for a half hour. Any bugs in the fruit will try to leave and drown. This is the first year that I am going to try and make chocolate covered cherries out of the leftovers. I also double the recipe as 90% of the final product is given as Xmas gifts. In terms of gas while using Mason jars, I leave mine out on a porch that gets morning sun, but temps do reach up to 100F in the second month of the recipe. No explosions to date, I shake the jars once a day, and it still turns out boozy in the end. I feel like the sun and heat helps a little with keeping the bad stuff that could form in check. This is the easiest drink to make by far, and I would recommend it to any beginner homebrewer as it was the first one I made.

    1. Wow, I’m so glad that you’ve had success making this and I have to say now that I’ve read your comment I’m not going to be able to stop thinking about chocolate covered cherries until I try to make a few of my own! Thanks so much for the tips and feedback!

  22. Nola

    What if you live somewhere like Florida? The sun gets fairly intense. Still an entire month in the sun. All advise welcome. I would really like to make a batch of the cherry liquor. we

  23. Lori McNutt

    Hi, I live in Alberta and I just picked my cherries, it will be turning colder very soon. Should I still leave the cherries outside? I do have a greenhouse?

  24. Kim Pike

    So I just made my first jar of the sour cherry liqueur with my NanKing Cherries. All I used for spices was just cinnamon sticks. I kinda forgot about it, and it sat an extra couple of weeks. Strained it and added 1 cup of vodka. OhMyLanta!!!! It tastes like cinnamon hearts! Would this need to be refrigerated?

    1. Sorry not to have answered this sooner. That sounds amazing – I love cinnamon, and cinnamon heart cherry liqueur sounds unbeatable. I never refrigerate my bottles, but I am sure it wouldn’t hurt to.

  25. I have made your recipe with my Nankin Cherries every year since I first read your post, and it is always a big hit. I tried it with Gin as the added liquor and I liked it even better than the vodka one. Do you know what is the minimum amount of added liquor needed to preserve it? I would like to preserve as much of the cherry flavor as possible.

    1. Hi – I’m so glad that the recipe has served you. I am partial to gin myself, and never thought of adding it to the cherries – I will have to attempt it! I did some digging and wasn’t able to turn up anything about minimum alcohol content for preservation. The sugar should also help with the preservation, so I am sure you could play around with the alcohol content a little. I would be nervous about going too low because I wouldn’t want to ruin the precious cherries! I hope that you will report back any findings, though.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s