At last, the overdue post on preserving cherries; hopefully, here in time before the end of cherry season!
After having picked 40 pounds of sweet black cherries, and then Googling about and looking in my many cookbooks for things to do with 40 lbs of cherries, I am convinced that sweet cherries get a bad rap. Everywhere you look it’s sour cherry-this and sour cherry-that; a few recipes call for “tart” cherries; other than clafouti, it seems that the world has nothing much to do with fresh sweet cherries. Even the infamous Black Forest Cake generally uses canned or brandied cherries. I really don’t understand this; if you Google recipes for raspberries, or strawberries, or any other berry with a simiarly short growing season, you’ll get thousands of recipes. But sweet cherries? Not so much. It seems that sour cherries are the “pie cherry” and in many cases, the preferred drying cherry as well. I can understand this, to a point; if I had both a sweet cherry tree and a sour cherry tree, I would eat the sweet cherries while fresh and preserve the sour cherries, because while I like their flavor, I don’t much care for their texture when fresh. But that just doesn’t seem to be a compelling enough reason for there to be almost no recipes out there for preserving fresh cherries. And as much as I love sweet cherries, even I cannot get through 40 lbs of them before they go bad. So what’s a girl with a boatload of sweet cherries to do?
That’s easy: dry a bunch, freeze a bunch, eat a bunch, and as for the rest, substitute them in wherever you see “sour cherry.” To modify a variety of sour cherry recipes, I generally cut back on the sugar and add a little lemon juice; other than that, the sweet cherries substituted admirably and many of the recipes I made were so wonderfully delicious that I can’t imagine how they could be improved upon with sour cherries. So take that sour cherry snobs! I strike a blow for sweet black cherries everywhere!
Ahem. I’ll update the post as I get the chance to put up more of the cherry recipes. In the meantime, you can click on cherries in the Categories to find all the recipes to date. Happy preserving!
I love, love, love my new OXO cherry pitter. Yes, you can use a paperclip or hairpin. Yes, you can cut them in half and pop the pit out with a knife. But when you have 40 lbs of cherries to pit, and your fiance thinks this gadget is so cool that the first thing out of his mouth when he gets home each night is “Do you want me to pit some cherries for you?”, I’m telling you, you need this cherry pitter. You’ll thank me later.
Basics: Much like for strawberries, or any berry, there are two methods: IQF (individually quick-freeze) and freezing with sugar. Individually quick-freeze washed, stemmed and pitted cherries (you must pit them before freezing or the cherries will take on a bitter almond flavor from the pits), laid out, without touching, on a plate or baking sheet, for at least one hour. Once cherries are frozen solid, transfer to a doubled Ziplock bag and store frozen for up to 6 months. Alternatively, mix cherries with 1/4 to 3/4 cup sugar per quart berries (depending on your preference, or a recipe that you plan to make), macerate for about 15 minutes, then fill quart-sized containers or Ziploc bags and freeze for up to 1 year. Make sure to label with the amount of sugar you used for modifying recipes later on.
Check out the Sweet Cherry Rhubarb Pie Filling recipe for preparing and freezing cherry pie filling.
Use: Any recipe that calls for fresh or frozen cherries.
Basics: Wash, stem, pit and slice cherries in half, laying them individually, without touching, on the trays of a dehydrator, or on baking sheets. Dry in the dehydrator at 130 degrees F for 12-18 hours, or in your oven as low as it will go (range is usually 150 – 200 degrees F) and start checking at 8 hours. Store in airtight containers for up to 1 year. A little oil spray will make it easier to remove the dried cherries from the dehydrator trays or baking sheets. About 4 lbs of cherries yielded 2 cups of dried cherries. If you’re ambitious and/or frugal, freeze the cherries overnight, thaw and collect the juices, then dry the cherries and reserve the juice for another purpose.
Details: I dried three batches of cherries in my dehydrator for a total of 11 pounds of cherries. I calculated that 4 lbs of fresh cherries yielded 8 oz of dried cherries, so, picked by hand at $3/lb, my dried cherries are $24/lb. Not exactly the bargain of the century, considering organic dried cherries run about $15/lb at the store. But then again, I tell myself that I am supporting local farmers, who are committed to farming sustainably and who are keeping green areas intact in my neighborhood and I know that there is nothing in my dried cherries but cherries: no sugar, no preservatives. So there. Being the (sorta kinda) frugal girl that I am, I used the Rose method to freeze the cherries and release & collect some of the juice prior to drying. I washed and pitted about 4 lb at a time and froze them overnight. The next day I allowed the cherries to thaw for about 8 hours in a colander suspended over a large bowl. I collected about 3.5 cups of cherry juice per batch, which I then boiled down to about 1/2 cup of cherry syrup, which I froze for future use in pies, sauces, marinades, champagne, whatever.
Neighbor Nancy has good instructions for canning whole or sliced berries in a simple syrup; the same goes for washed, stemmed, pitted cherries. For more cherry preserving ideas from the Ball Jar site, see recipes here.
Use: for pies or tarts, Black Forest cake or clafouti, over ice cream or waffles, in yogurt or oatmeal or any recipe that requires lightly sweetened fruit.
JAMS, PRESERVES and PICKLING IN BOOZE
Use: on toast of course, but also as a cake layer filling, to make mini-tarts, on cheese plates, in Black Forest cake or over angel food cake, as the center “surprise” of muffins or cupcakes, as the base for a vinaigrette or marinade, to give as gifts to friends.