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.
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
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.
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!