Tuesday, July 21, 2015

How to Pit and Freeze Cherries - a Picture Tutorial.

It is cherry season in Montana - and there is nothing quite like sweet, nearly just-picked Flathead cherries.  We purchased a big batch last week, and I froze quite a few of them. 


Pitting cherries without a cherry pitter is messy, but not hard. It just takes a little practice to figure out and master the best technique.  

Years ago, while on vacation in Wisconsin with friends, our families went cherry picking. After the kids went to bed, the adults poured some wine and pitted our buckets of cherries. That evening, my friend taught us an easy secret to pitting cherries - use a straw! 

In case you might not have a knowledgeable friend with you the first time you find yourself

facing a massive bucket or box of cherries to pit, I am sharing a picture tutorial and some tips here today.

How to Pit Cherries

Set up your work station. It is helpful to have everything ready, before your hands are covered in cherry juice. 

cherries, pits, cherry juice, messy

Your hands will get covered - and cherry juice stains the skin and nails black! I highly recommend wearing disposable (latex free) clean gloves!

I pitted my cherries over a plastic cutting board. In retrospect, doing so over a large plate or rimmed cookie sheet would have made much more sense, as this would have been better at containing the drips!
  • Place cherries in a colander and rinse well.
  • Pick through cherries and discard any that are badly bruised, damages or showing signs of any mold or decomposing.
  • Pick up a cherry in one hand and remove the stem with the other. 
  • While holding the cherry, center the end of a sturdy straw directly over the place where the stem had been attached.
  • Gently skewer the straw all the way through the cherry, feeling for the pit, and pushing it out the other side. Be prepared, sometimes the cherry juice sprays out!
cherry, cherry pit, straw
  • Be sure the cherry pit either drops onto your work area, or you gently dislodge it from the cherry.
  • Slide the pitted cherry off the straw into a bowl or measuring cup, by pulling back with it against the inside rim of the cup, as you push it forward with your index finger. 
  • Repeat until all cherries are pitted. Occasionally, (as needed) discard stems, seeds and juice from the pitted cherries into a trash can.
Note: I found it really helpful to keep the end of my straw (the side not being used to poke the cherries) positioned over the sink.  As the work progresses, the straw will fill with bits of cherry and juice. The juice will begin to drain out the straw - and there is less cleanup to do, if this just drips into the sink!

One other thing I learned: unless the cherries are a really thin-skinned variety, the type of straw you use matters! I started with the plastic bendy-type straw, the kind sold in a box of 30 or so at the grocery store.  This was not sturdy enough to cleanly puncture the cherries, and they got very mangled.

My kids are now both old enough to be called adult ... but yes, I still have some hard plastic, animal-themed twisty straws in my house. You just don't know when some things might come in handy! (Fortunately, I hadn't yet applied what I've learned about decluttering to those types of items - otherwise I probably would not have still had them!) 

As it turned out, even the hard plastic straw was no match for the cherries after a while. The end became warped, and it started to mangle the cherries. Once I switched to a new straw, the work went smoothly again. It's a good idea to be prepared with a few of these available.

How to Freeze Cherries

Freezing cherries is a good way to have that wonderful summer flavor any time of year.  

You can just throw the pitted cherries right into a freezer bag, and stick them in the freezer, but they will form a very solid mass.  A better way is to first flash-freeze them on a tray.

Here is the method I think works well:

  • Line rimmed trays with waxed paper (any size, as long as they can be placed flat and level  in your freezer). 
  • Gently fill the tray with the pitted cherries, preferably so they are not touching or at least are not smashed closely together.
  • Freeze trays of cherries for at least six hours, until quite solidly frozen. 
When you finish pitting the cherries, they may appear sort of flattened and out of shape. Somehow, after they are frozen on a tray, they plump up again and look quite beautiful! 
  • When cherries are firm, transfer them to freezer bags.
freezing cherries,

Note: I fill ziplock sandwich bags with 2 cups of cherries each, and then seal them closed. I then place four of these smaller bags into a gallon ziplock for extra protection against freezer burn. This way, I can easily grab and thaw whatever amount of cherries I might need when making a crisp, pie, or other dessert.
  • Label the gallon bag with the date and contents. Return cherries to freezer. 
I've heard that it is best to use frozen cherries from a freezer in six months, and from a deep freeze within one year.

The quality of the cherries I purchased from Fat Robin Orchard and Farm was amazing - only a very small handful of cherries were damaged in the entire box, even five days after I purchased them. (I am receiving no compensation for this comment, I just think they deserve a compliment!)

Although I didn't find pitting the cherries too tedious this week, it is a task that seems to proceed a lot more quickly if you do it with some friends! Many thanks to my friend Julie - for her helpful tip so many years ago, and the fun memories of those vacations in Wisconsin!

picking cherries
Photo Credits: As you an imagine, taking the photos of this process by myself would have been rather difficult. Fortunately, I had the assistance of my son!

Have you ever picked or frozen cherries?
Do you have any other tips to add?
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  1. MMM! Those cherries look delicious! They will make a delicious pie when the time is right!

  2. My husband loves cherries, and I've never thought to pit and freeze them to enjoy later. Thanks for the very informative tutorial!

    1. Freezing cherries works really well Lana. Just be prepared for a bit of a mess pitting them!

  3. They are not grown around here, but I love cherries it is my favorite fruit. Maybe next year we should work out a trade cherries for peaches haha! I love this tip it seemed to make the whole job so much easier! I never would have thought to freeze them although I do apples! I keep telling my hubby I need a deep freezer!

    1. Peaches would be great Rena! I could really use a bigger freezer as well.

  4. Mmm cherries. I have a cherry pitter - bought from a $2 shop which has paid for itsefl time and time again. I have used straws, but you are right, they die. Some earlier than others.

    1. A $2 cherry pitter - that's a bargain! I've always wondered if they work much better than my straw method ... but at that price, I wouldn't have anything to lose to try one!

  5. Awesome tutorial Susan. Cherries are a favorite snack of mine (I spit the seeds) ha ha. Adorable straws too!

    1. I saved quite a few of the cherries for us to just snack on - and they have held up really well so far, Lori Leigh. These were some of the nicest cherries we have ever bought!

  6. We used to go to Flathead lake every summer at cherry time and stay in a campground that featured their own cherry orchard. What fun we kids had picking (and eating) the cherries. There's nothing quite like a Flathead cherry! P.S. I just pitted and froze two cases of cherries. This tutorial came just moments too late! :) But I've got it in my pocket for next year!

    1. If you froze two cases of cherries this year Diane, you are already a pro... and don't need my advice! :)
      Flathead lake is pretty amazing, isn't it? Welcome back, by the way!


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