Cherry-Basil Syrup for Cocktails

There’s nothing quite like the tart juicy burst of a sweet, musky—and the best are almost over-ripe—cherry bursting on my tongue.  Each bite followed by the quick rip-pull of the stem from between the teeth and a never-graceful pucker to release the pit.  Fresh cherries piled in a bowl of ice are the perfect snack for a blazing mid-summer afternoon.

Leifheit didn't pay us to use this pitter.  We just think it's wonderful.

Leifheit didn’t pay us to use this pitter. We just think it’s wonderful.

Cherries have been starring in quite a few dishes in my kitchen already this summer.   My neighbor has three ancient sour-cherry trees in her yard; one day last summer we picked 16 pounds (yes, pounds!) of fruit from her trees, fighting off the birds as we went.   After my boys spent a half-hour using one-at-a-time pitters that fell apart after 50 cherries, I purchased a Leifheit Cherry Stoner.  Those clever Germans know what they are doing in the cherry processing department:  we pitted the entire mess in a little over an hour.  Best $29.95 I’ve ever spent on a plastic kitchen appliance that Alton Brown would no-doubt classify as a “uni-tasker.”

This summer we’re using both farm-stand purchased sweet cherries and sour cherries.  We’re making the usual cherry preserves, cherry jam, and cherry-rhubarb chutney.  But every year I also put up several cherry applications specific to cocktail making:  Cherry Heering (which we made in a previous post), Cherry Bounce (the Appalachian infusion of one part cherries in two parts white corn or bourbon whiskey), and I make cherry syrups and shrubs, which are classic Southern cocktail mixers.  Although I use basil in this recipe, a plain cherry syrup is just as delightful and a bit more flexible for general cocktail use.

Cherry, Basil & Pink Peppercorn Syrup.

Cherry, Basil & Pink Peppercorn Syrup.

Cherry-Basil & Pink Peppercorn Syrup 

This jewel-toned syrup is gorgeous mixed into Manhattans, or used instead of simple syrup to jazz up clear soda-based simple cocktails in the gin and vodka varieties.  See recipes, below.

2 cups water

2 cups sugar

2 cups cherries, pitted and rough-chopped

1 handful of basil leaves

1 tsp. pink peppercorns

Over medium heat, bring all ingredients to a low simmer, stirring continuously to dissolve the sugar.  Once the mixture comes to a light simmer, reduce heat to the lowest setting and let barely simmer for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.  Rest for at least one and up to three hours to let flavors meld.

Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a large non-reactive (ceramic or glass) container.  Do not be tempted to press down on the solids or scrape the bottom of the strainer — this will give you a cloudy (although still delicious) syrup!  Just let gravity do its work.  Store in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.

Basil-Cherry Bellini.  Yum!

Basil-Cherry Bellini. Yum!

Basil-Cherry Bellini

1 oz. Cherry-Basil Pink Peppercorn Syrup, strained

3 oz. chilled Prosecco

Pour cherry syrup into a chilled champagne or coupe glass.  Slowly add the Prosecco (take your time, this will fizz a lot!).  Garnish with a small basil leaf or two.  Gorgeous!


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