Remember my post about George Washington and cherries in February? It's been one of my most popular. And while yes, you can totally still make walnut pie or have pickled walnuts with cheese and Madeira in February, you can also take the time right now to make yourself some Cherry Bounce.
What is cherry bounce, you ask? It's basically brandy, cherries, and sugar, and it was a favored 18th century drink. My in-laws have a now quite grown up sour cherry tree (Montmorency, I think) that was just LOADED with sour cherries when we were up the other weekend. Sour cherries, also known as sour pie cherries, are not as sour as, say, rhubarb, but definitely need a little sugar as they are nowhere near as sweet as the sweet black or Queen Anne cherries you often find in grocery stores this time of year. They're also far more delicate, so if you're going to pick them, please pick them with the stem on, unless you plan to process them right away.
Martha Washington's recipe is available thanks to the Mount Vernon estate, but I didn't have 10 pounds of cherries, and while mine probably weren't Morellos, Montmorencies are a sub-genus of Morellos. I also thought 3 cups of sugar to 4 cups of brandy was pretty high. That's borderline syrup territory, for my taste. Considering I wanted to use this cherry bounce as a sipping liquor or in cocktails, I reduced the sugar. I also wanted to taste some of that summer flavor, so I left out the spices.
Here's what I used:
1 colander sour cherries (a little more than 1 quart, pitted and stemmed - feel free to use more)
a little more than 1 cup sugar
1 liter smooth brandy (not the expensive kind, but not the cheapest either)
Place 1/2 cup sugar in each of two quart jars. Pit the cherries and divide equally between the jars (you'll get about a pint for each). The easiest way to do this, since sour cherries are so soft, is just to squeeze the pits out over the jars, to make sure you catch all the juice. Discard the pits. This is also easier if you use a canning funnel for each jar, which helps with the splatters. Because Montmorency cherries have yellow flesh, if you wear dark clothing, the spattering won't stain.
Once the cherries are done, add 2 cups of brandy to each jar. You'll have a little left over, so just divide the remainder between the two jars. I added another couple of tablespoons of sugar to each, because I had room. Screw the mason jar lids on and shake every hour or so until the sugar is dissolved. Then let rest in a cool dark place, shaking occasionally, until February. I left the cherries in, and intend to either serve one with each glass, or strain them out and cook them in more sugar and serve over vanilla ice cream (Thomas Jefferson's favorite).
Funnily enough, although the mixture was brown last night, by morning it was bright red and the cherries were already starting to lose their color.
We'll see how it turns out. I might regret not adding more sugar or cherries, as sugar tends to mellow out alcohol, but then again, I might not! I'll give an update for President's Day 2020, when I'll invite some friends over for cherry bounce, walnuts, and ice cream!
Sarah Wassberg Johnson has an MA in Public History from the University at Albany and studies early 20th century food history.