Monday, June 29, 2015

Picking, Pitting and Preserving Sour Cherries

We have a few Montmorency sour cherry trees that, until this year, didn't produce enough cherries among the four of them to make a single pie. Between rabbits and deer gnawing on young trees, the polar vortex and inexplicable low fruit production, we considered getting out of the cherry growing business. Then everything changed.

This year the trees were loaded with fruit. We harvested and froze more cherries than we've ever used - four gallons in total. After years of negligible returns, we had a bumper crop. Each night for a week, we picked, pitted and froze. It felt like we were real cherry growers! And then with pride I posted my cherry pictures. Turns out most of my friends also had an exceptional cherry season. So much for my amazing fruit production skills. 

Cherries are ripe when they turn deep red and come away from the tree easily. Sour cherries freeze well and make beautiful pies, crisps, cobblers, jam, etc. We used a cherry pitter, but you can remove the pit by slicing the fruit in half and removing the stone or fashioning a homemade gizmo from a paper clip.

I've included the very best sour cherry pie recipe below. Aside from pie, the versatile filling can be used to top cheesecake, fill a black forest cake, baked into Danish pastry or spooned over ice cream.  

Cherries on the same tree will ripen at slightly different times.
Yellow and orange cherries will eventually turn red, signaling ripeness.

Chief gardener had to bust out the ladder to pick! These dwarf trees are about
nine feet tall. We'll trim next year to open up the center. Shaded cherries take longer to ripen.

Unpitted cherries, fresh off the tree.

Place pitted cherries on a baking sheet and place overnight in the freezer.
When completely frozen, remove to a freezer container. Use within one year.

Sour Cherry Pie
Adapted from Bountiful Ohio

4 cups unsweetened, pitted tart cherries, thawed (20 oz)
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 drops red food color (optional, but pretty)
Pastry for 9" double crust pie
In a medium saucepan, combine cherries, sugar and cornstarch. Cook and stir until mixture cones to a boil. Remove from heat. Stir in butter, extracts and food color.  Let stand at room temperature for one hour.

Roll out half pastry. Place in bottom of 9 inch pie plate. Pour cherry filling into shell. Roll out remaining pastry. Adjust top crust, seal and vent. Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes until golden brown. Cool completely. Serve. 

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