Infusing fresh cherries with a sweetened lemon and bourbon syrup makes these bourbon cherries pop with flavor. Add these boozy cherries to your favorite cocktails, spoon over ice cream for a decadent treat, or give to friends as gifts.
My longtime readers know that I love cherry season. When I see cherries appear in my local grocery store or farmers’ market, I simply can’t resist picking up yet another bag or carton.
Sweet cherries have found their way into several recipes on this website, including Cherry BBQ Sauce, Asian style Sweet and Sour Sauce, and Cherry Jam. Here, I am sharing how to preserve the cherry goodness into jars of bourbon cherries!
These boozy bourbon cherries are a great substitute for the artificially dyed maraschino cherries. Use the sweet bourbon cherry syrup to flavor drinks and garnish with the cherries. They are delicious in baked goods, and are delicious on top of a hot fudge sundae. A jar of homemade bourbon cherries makes a great hostess gift too!
Tips for Making Bourbon Cherries
Bourbon cherries are made by combining fresh cherries with a sweetened bourbon syrup, packing into canning jars, and processing in a water bath canner. Let the fruit infuse with flavor for at least a month before opening the jar. Here are some tips for making bourbon cherries:
Any cherry variety can be used for this recipe
My favorites are the sweet dark cherries, but tart cherries will also sweeten slightly when infused in the flavored syrup. Select firm and ripe cherries without bruises or blemishes. You will need about 6 pounds of cherries for this recipe.
Preparing the cherries is the most time consuming part of this recipe. Get yourself a cherry pitter to make it easier.
Use inexpensive bourbon
You can use any brand of bourbon for this recipe, but I don’t recommend using an expensive one because it is just a small element of flavor.
Let the flavors infuse
After making, allow at least 4-weeks for the flavor to infuse into the cherries.
How to Make and Can Bourbon Cherries
If you are new to canning or haven’t canned in a while, it may be helpful to review this article on water bath canning at the National Center for Home Food Preservation website.
This recipe is adapted from the “Brandied Cherries” recipe in the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving. We have swapped bourbon for the brandy. A more detailed and printable recipe can be found at the bottom of this article, but these are the general steps to make and preserve bourbon cherries.
Be careful! Cherry juice stains. Be sure to wear old clothing and wipe up any messes quickly so it doesn’t set.
Step 1: Gather your kitchen equipment
Collect the following canning and kitchen equipment:
- Water bath canner and canning rack
- 6 pint sized canning jars
- Canning lids and bands (new lids for each jar, bands can be reused)
- Canning tools: jar lifter, canning ladle, funnel, and bubble popper
- Kitchen scale
- Cherry pitter.
- Plus basic kitchen supplies such as a medium pot, large prep bowl, slotted spoon, kitchen towels (that you don’t mind getting stained).
Step 2: Prepare the cherries
Weigh your cherries with the kitchen scale. You will need about 6 pounds to fill 6 half-pint jars. Wash the cherries well under clean running water. Pull out the stems, and pit the cherries with a cherry pitter. Place the pitted cherries in a large bowl, and set aside while you prepare the canning equipment.
Step 3: Prepare the canning gear
Wash the jars, lids, bands and canning tools in warm, soapy water and rinse well. Set the lids, bands, and tools aside to air-dry until you are ready to use them.
Place the canning rack into the water bath canner, set the jars upright in the canner, and add water to cover the jars. Bring the canner to a simmer (180˚F) for 10 minutes, and keep hot until you are ready to fill them.
Follow the manufacturer’s directions for preparing the lids. Pre-heating lids is no longer necessary before using, but it is still safe to warm the lids if you want to. Just add them to the canner when you heat your jars.
Step 4: Make the bourbon cherry syrup
Combine the sugar, water, and lemon juice in a large pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat while stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Add the cherries, reduce the heat to a simmer (180˚F), and cook about 5 minutes, or until the cherries soften slightly and begin to release liquid.
Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the bourbon.
Step 5: Can the cherries
Spread a kitchen towel on the counter. Use the jar lifter to remove a hot jar from the canner, drain, and place on the towel. Keep the remaining jars in the canner, so they stay warm.
Use your canning funnel and slotted spoon to fill the jar with cherries. Don’t squish the cherries, but you can pack them in firmly. They will soften and shrink slightly as they infuse into the bourbon syrup. Leave enough wiggle room to allow your bubble popper to run through the jar to release air bubbles.
Ladle hot syrup over the cherries maintaining a 1/2-inch headspace. Make sure all the cherries are submerged beneath the liquid. Run the bubble popper through the jar to release air bubbles, adjusting headspace again if necessary.
Wipe the rim of the jar with a damp towel to remove residue. Center a lid on the top, place the band over the lid, and screw it on until fingertip tight. Place the jar back into the canner, and repeat with the rest of the jars.
Adjust the water level so it is covering the jars by two inches, bring the canner to a boil, and process in a boiling water canner for the times indicated in the recipe below. Let the jars cool completely, and then test the seals, label, date, and store in a cool, dark location. Yields about 6 pint jars depending on the size of your cherries.
These cherries get better with age. Let the flavor infuse into the cherries for at least 4 weeks before opening a jar, and then store the jar in the refrigerator.
Bourbon Cherries Canning Recipe
- 6 pounds sweet cherries
- 1 cup cane sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup lemon juice freshly squeezed or bottled juice
- 1 1/4 cups bourbon
Prepare the Cherries
- Rinse, stem, and pit the cherries. Set them aside while you prepare the canning equipment and make the bourbon syrup.
Prepare the Canning Equipment
- Wash your jars, lids, screw bands, and canning tools in hot soapy water. Rinse thoroughly to remove all suds. Set aside to air dry on a clean kitchen towel.
- Place the canning rack into water bath canner, place jars in the canner, and add water to cover. Bring the canner to a simmer (180˚F) for 10 minutes, and keep hot until you are ready to fill them.
Make the Syrup
- Add the sugar, water, and lemon juice to a medium pot. Bring the pot to a boil over medium-high heat while stirring to dissolve the sugar.
- Add the cherries, reduce the heat to a simmer (180˚F), and cook until the cherries are warm, about 5 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and remove the pot from the stove. Add the bourbon, stir to combine, and cover to pot to keep it warm.
Can the Bourbon Cherries
- Spread a towel on the counter. Use your jar lifter to remove a warm jar from canner, drain the water into the canner, and place on the towel. Keep the rest of the jars in the canner so they stay hot.
- Using the canning ladle and funnel to fill the jars with the cherries and syrup. Maintain a 1/2-inch headspace.
- Run the bubble popper through the jar to release air bubbles, and clean the rims of the jars with a damp towel.
- Place a lid on the jar, gasket side down, and screw on the metal band until fingertip tight.
- Place the jar back into the canner with the jar lifter, and repeat with the remaining jars.
- Once all the jars are in canner, adjust the water level to two inches above the tops. If adding water, pour the water in between the jars and not directly onto them.
- Cover the canner and bring to boil over high heat. Once water boils vigorously, process pints for 10 minutes at altitudes of less than 1,000 ft. Adjust processing time for your altitude if necessary (see notes below).
- When processing time is complete, turn off the heat and allow the canner to cool down and settle for about 5 minutes.
- Lay a dry towel on the counter. Remove the cover by tilting lid away from you so that steam does not burn your face.
- Use the jar lifter to remove the jars from canner and place on the towel. Keep upright, and don't tighten bands or check the seals yet. Let the jars sit undisturbed for 12 to 24-hours to cool.
- After the jars have cooled for at least 12 hours, check to be sure lids have sealed by pushing on the center of the lid. The lid should not pop up. If the lid flexes up and down, it did not seal. Refrigerate and use within several months.
- Let the flavor infuse into the cherries for at least 4 weeks before opening a jar. Once opened, store the jar in the refrigerator, and use within a year. Yields about 6 pint jars.
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This sounds delicious. Can you use frozen cherries?
©Rachel Arsenault says
Monique, You could use frozen cherries, but the quality won’t be very good. The cherries won’t hold their shape because freezing breaks down the cell structure. However, if you spoon it over ice cream or another dessert, the softened cherries will still taste delicious.