Vişinată – Sour Cherry Drink

Hello Janet, I was wondering if you had a recipe for a drink my grandma used to make, it was, I think, called visnada or visnata and basically a sour cherry syrup with the fruits it. It was reduce and you would dilute it with water. My family is from Izmir, Turkey. Thanks!   – Estelle

Well, Estelle, you’ve just pretty much described the recipe you’re looking for!  Visnada is one of those seemingly exotic things that turns out to be sraightforward and simple.

Sour cherries are native to central and Eastern Europe (Hungary, Austria, Croatia, Romania, etc.) and parts of Asia Minor. The word vişinată is actually Romanian, deriving from the Romanian word vişine (cherry).  Rumania was part of the Ottoman Empire (as were all of the countries I’ve named above), so it doesn’t take too much thought to figure out then how a Romanian word, if not the specific recipe, found its way into Ottoman (and, by extension, Ottoman-Sephardic) gastronomy.

Vişinată, kirsch, marsachino are all Central European cherry brandies, which are generally made by macerating sour cherries in sugar and alcohol.  Turkey being predominantly Moslem, it’s logical that a non-alcoholic version would have evolved there, and just as logical that our essentially teetotalling relatives would have latched onto the same alcohol-free version.   I have to confess I’m free-associating here, letting logic prevail without my usual deep digging.  When things settle down again at the restaurant (end of summer)? I’ll be able to unearth some specifics.  In the meantime…

To make an alcohol-free vişinată, you need only simmer sour cherries & sugar in water.  Use only sour cherries – the sugar will offset the tartness without killing the cherry flavor.  Sweet cherries will just give you bland results.  Try 2 parts sugar, 2 parts cherries and 1 part water.  Dissolve the sugar in water on the stove, add the cherries and simmer them to reduce the liquid to a dark, thick syrup.  Let it cool thoroughly – hot sugar burns!   To make a drink, pour some of the syrup  (and cherries) into a glass and dilute it with cold water.  You might like seltzer instead of water, and a sprig of fresh mint leaves adds a wonderful aroma.  Or add a squeeze of lime juice and you’ve got a Cherry Lime Rickey – one of the goofiest drink names ever dreamed up, but a great thirst-quencher.

As an aside, vişinată syrup is also great served over vanilla ice cream and pan de spanya.  But what isn’t!



Filed under Recipes, Your Questions Answered

3 responses to “Vişinată – Sour Cherry Drink

  1. Flora Esformes Bialo

    Hello Janice,

    You bring back memories! My father would make this drink.

    The picture of the boreka looks delicious.
    Do you have a recipe for it on line?

    Seeing that you offer cooking courses, somehow, maybe I can participate through “skype”. Or do you have a Sephardic cook book?

    We are Sephardic Jews from Thessaloniki.

    Thanks for your site.

    All the best,
    Flora Bialo

    • Janet Amateau

      Thank you, Flora! That’s actually an ojaldre you’re looking at, not a boreka – different dough, different shape. You can read about it in the glossary. I teach here in Spain and, on occasion, when I travel to the States (I may make a trip to the U.S. next winter). I’ll keep you posted. — JA

  2. Oh, oh, oh, thank you so much for your response, you made my day, if not my summer!! I have enough sour cherries in the freezer to make the drink later this year.

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