How to Make Fresh Cherry Pie Filling

I’ve been yapping about cherry pie on Facebook and Instagram this week because the trees in my neighborhood are booming with fruit.

I thought I should post a tutorial before it’s too late for you to take advantage of the gift of free fruit.


Do you see cherries? I see pie.

Unbelievably, most people have no interest in harvesting their sour cherries and all it takes is a knock on the door.

Sometimes I offer a pie in return but lately I haven’t bothered. They really don’t care.

Sour cherries are rarely available fresh in the grocery store. Don’t even think about using Bing or Rainier cherries, BTW. I’ve done it. They aren’t tart enough to give it that cherry flavor. They yield a sweet and bland tasting pie.

The only option is canned cherry pie filling that tends to be overly sweet and artificially colored.

Red Tart Pitted Cherries, Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Modified Corn Starch, Red 40, Erythorbic Acid (to Promote Color Retention).

Red Tart Pitted Cherries, Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Modified Corn Starch, Red 40, Erythorbic Acid (to Promote Color Retention).

AND you have to pay for it. Neighborhood cherries are free and delicious.

I recorded some poorly lit, long, rambling tutorial videos but decided that it’s not worth anyone’s time to watch.

Instead, here’s a slideshow on how to harvest and process sour cherries for pie, either to be consumed immediately or put in the freezer for later.

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This is the automatic pitter that I use. It’s an absolute must if you plan on doing more than one pie. You can squish the pits out with your fingers if you are just doing a single pie.


Garage sale score, natch.

You can find them used on ebay, just look up crank cherry pitter or cherry stoner.

I haven’t found a modern crank pitter that isn’t under $200 except for this one which might be useful.

Whatever you do, steer clear of anything that looks like these:

These all suck

These all suck

With the top one, you place each cherry into the basket before plunging out the stone, the other have a feed system, but you have to bang each one through.

Also, these work fine on Bing and Ranier cherries because they are large have a very firm flesh. Sour cherries (the only kind of cherries that make good pie) have a very soft flesh and smaller stone that tend to slip past the plunger.

I thicken my pies with instant tapioca. A very important point is that you must stir the tapioca into the cool/room temperature cherry juice and let it sit for at least 30 minutes before heating.

I used to stir the tapioca into the pot with the combined fruit and juice but I found that it would clump together in unappetizing pockets.

It works best to take the extra step of straining the liquid and whisking the tapioca in thoroughly and then reuniting the cherries with the juice and the other ingredients.

If you immediately heat the tapioca mixture, you will end up with rock hard bits of tapioca which will never soften.

Even though the package says “Instant” it means you need to soak it only 30 minutes rather than overnight. Hot liquid will inhibit softening. You’ve been warned.

Here’s the recipe I used for my pies, BTW.

The reason I pre-cook the cherries is that I intend to freeze them before I turn them into pies. A benefit of cooking the filling on the stove is that you can adjust the sugar or use honey instead. You can taste it for sweetness and make adjustments.

I’ve tried freezing the raw, pitted cherries and the thawed result is watery and brown. Creating a filling stabilizes the color and makes it easy to work with on the other end, like opening a can of filling.

In the middle of deep winter, simply thaw, pour into an uncooked shell (or casserole dish if you are making a cobbler) and bake. It’s easy as pie.

To bake, pour 4 cups of filling into shell, top and bake. If it's frozen, thaw the cherries first, then proceed.

To bake, pour 4 cups of filling into shell, top and bake. If it’s frozen, thaw the cherries first, then proceed.


6 thoughts on “How to Make Fresh Cherry Pie Filling

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