Cherries – Waste Not Want Not
It’s cherry season and we had some excess cherries from the tasting room.
Like, 40 pounds of excess cherries.
I’m not complaining. We’ll happily eat them until we’re sick, and then eat more. (Moderation has never been my strong-suit.) I wanted to preserve some for our winter enjoyment as well.
Sweet, gold, pink, red, the colors of the Bings and Rainiers are just like the sunsets out here. Or the wine. Rainier cherries are beautiful bright yellow with a pink blush in places. Presentation-wise, they are best fresh. Canned, they turn tan and boring. Frozen is the same. They look okay dried, but they look their best fresh — shiny and plump. They’re not bad looking dried. No matter how you preserve them, they are delicious, though! And ugly food’s sure never stopped me from eating it.
Dark, almost black Bing cherries are made for preserving. Canned, they keep their dark red color. Dried, they are glossy dark maroon nuggets. They look great pressed into the top of a log of goat cheese and drizzled with a bit of honey.
We really only like to preserve cherries two ways — frozen, or dried. Give me a bag of frozen cherries in the middle of winter and the ones I don’t eat straight out of the bag are used in cherry cake, cherry barbecue sauce, or sprinkled on ice cream. Dried cherries – same thing. Dried cherries are great sprinkled on salads, pressed into a log of fresh goat cheese, or stuffed in the pockets of our ski jackets for a little chair-lift snacking.
So, you know, this isn’t going to be the be-all, end-all round up of every cherry recipe ever. It’s more a recap of my super-simple process for getting every last bit of enjoyment out of cherries.
This year I tried brandied cherries, because alcohol+cherries=awesomeness. I delivered a jar to my neighbor and she already is planning a duck dinner using the brandied cherries. I’ll let you know how that goes and share recipes, but I’m going to spend a fair amount of time researching wine pairings for that.
Meanwhile, about 15 pounds into pitting all of these cherries, my pitter broke. I’ll spare you any “it’s the pits”-type puns.
It’s not mandatory that the cherries be pitted for every use. I could freeze or can them with the pits in. I just want them pitted. Easily. Without any friggin’ drama. Turns out this cherry season is not my drama-free cherry season. Unlike last cherry season in which we picked and brought home a meager 20 pounds of cherries and ate them all before I even brought the pitter down from the top shelf of my canning storage.
I was all set to order a new pitter off Amazon – I had visions of a cast-iron number with a hand crank. Something that would never betray my trust mid-pitting. No such luck. So I tried eBay and beheld the most beautiful, graceful, boat-anchor-heavy cast iron cherry pitter ever invented. This will never collect dust on the canning shelves. It’s a display piece, a work of art, beautifully practical.
Why aren’t these a thing still?
We feel fairly strongly about making use of every last bit of whatever it is we’re processing whether it’s eggs, birds, goat-milk, or produce. To that end I found myself with a lot of leftover cherry pits. Should I grind ’em up for face powder? Feed ’em to the chickens? Make a macaroni-art equivalent? They have cianide in them, so eating them was out of the question. Plus I want to keep my teeth, so there’s that.
Thankfully, the answer was “no” to all of those ideas and it’s something so much better.
“Amaretto.” Or maybe it’s more “Faux-maretto.” But it’s almondy alcohol made from cherry pits. For real. And it’s quite delish!
I just take the pits and dump them into a jar – I don’t bother cleaning them or anything. Then I pour some brandy in the jar and let it sit for a few months. Strain off the alcohol and dump the pits, you could put it in pretty bale-top bottles to give away as gifts, or just enjoy yourself. This year I’m using vodka because I ran out of brandy.
Alright, alright, alright — let’s get to “the process”.
You will need:
- A cherry pitter (I recommend this one, and no, I don’t have an affiliate program).
- A large colander
- Bowls/containers for freezing and etc.
- Baking sheets and waxed paper
- 6 – 8 pint jars, lids, and rings for brandied cherries
- 6 – 8 quart jars for Faux-maretto
- 2 x 1.75 Liter (at least) Brandy for brandied cherries and faux-maretto.
- Plastic bags for storing your frozen and your dried cherries
- A water-bath canner
- A food dehydrator (or use your oven)
Step 1.) Clean cherries — remove all leaves and stems. Place in colander and rinse well with cold water. Do this RIGHT as you begin processing your cherries. Don’t do it and then let them sit or they start to go bad, FAST. (I haven’t tried a way to use the stems and leaves — paper maybe?)
Step 2.) Pit ’em all, putting the pits into your quart jars. About 1/2 cup per quart jar is good. I don’t bother rinsing them or anything. It’s the wild west out here. Out of 40 pounds of cherries I ended up with about 6 quart jars ready for my Faux-maretto. Top off each quart jar with vodka or brandy, screw on a cap and store in a dark cabinet. Let it sit for several weeks. Here’s my cherry pitter. I’ve had it 10 years and the bottom bracket finally broke. I guess I’m kind of an aggressive pitter.
Step 3.) Set aside 6 pounds of the cherries for Brandied cherries. Divide up the remaining cherries between the ones you’ll freeze and the ones you’ll dry.
To make Brandied Cherries:
- pour about a teaspoon of sugar in the bottom of each pint jar
- fill to within 1/2 inch of top of jar with pitted cherries
- fill to within 1/2 inch of top of jar with Brandy
- Process 10 minutes in water-bath canner
Step 4.) Freezing Cherries — to freeze them so that they aren’t clumped together in a big block of cherryness, first freeze them on a cookie sheet –
- Place waxed paper on cookie sheets and spread some cherries on that. Make sure cherries are spread out and aren’t touching (much) so they’ll be individual little frozen nuggets.
- Place them in the freezer for a couple of hours.
- After 2 hours, bag up the frozen cherries or place in jars to store in the freezer. I did about 8 quart-sized freezer bags this way.
Step 5.) Drying Cherries:
- Place the cherries you want to dry into several containers about 1 or 2 quarts in size.
- Place them in the freezer until frozen solid – leave them overnight, clean up your kitchen, catch some sleep. You’ve earned it.
- Remove from freezer and thaw in a strainer, capturing all of that delicious cherry juice.
- Spread cherries on your dryer racks and dry. Pro-Tip: Don’t halve your cherries. Just squash them between your fingers to get them semi-flat. It’s faster and quite gratifying.
- You can vacuum-seal your dried cherries in small bags for storage. I just put them in resealable bags and in the freezer.
Step 6.) You Thought You Were Done???
- You still have that sticky, gooey, cherry juice left over from Step 5!
- Pour that into ice-cube trays and freeze. When you make Red Sangria, just omit the sugar and substitute your cherry juice ice cubes for the regular ice. You could also use your frozen cherries as ice cubes in your Sangria. Mmmmm. Invite me over if you do!
Of course, after I got all that done we went and gleaned another 15 pounds of Bings and Rainier cherries. It was a Saturday and that’s normally a pretty busy day for us, and the cherries were NOT going to keep another minute. I super-quick busted out the poor broken pitter and froze most of the cherries. I set aside enough to make cherry pie filling which I froze for later. Honestly, why do we do that? Know how many pies I make a year (I mean, besides my famous North Carolina mini Lemon pies)? Like, none. Yet, for some reason I feel the need to make pie-filling Every. Dang. Summer. Because one day we’ll entertain people and I’ll make a fruit pie.