What do glass soda bottles- small plastics screws- and mops have in common? Cherry season of course! Still confused? Let me explain. My husband hails from the cherry-laden lands of Washington state and he knows a good cherry recipe when he tastes one. So it was pretty much a requirement that cherry season become a tradition in my house. Each year we sit down with our 20 plus pounds of cherries to pit and ultimately transform them into the jams, pies, cookies, and candies that will satisfy all cherry cravings for the year. We started this in the early days of our marriage- you know the tight times of college, babies, tiny apartments. That first cherry pitting session, we had enough money for a few pounds of cherries but not much left over for the coveted cherry pitter. So- we got creative. We had a glass soda bottle in the fridge which hubby graciously emptied. This served as a holder for the pits as they were pushed out. We tried several pitting tools including a pencil with the eraser pulled out of the metal part, but we finally settled on a small plastic screw left over from a desk we had recently assembled. We then took a cherry, rested it on the small opening of the bottle and, using our little black screw, pushed the pits right into the jar. It worked great! By the end of the night our fingers were stained a beautiful burgundy as was our table and floor. (Hence the mop which, I am sure, you can figure out how to operate).
13 years later our cherry budget has grown and we could certainly afford a cherry pitter. But, be it nostalgia or frugality, something holds us back and we still pit our cherries with our old bottle and screw method. (Really, I think it’s because it’s the one time a year I will allow hubby to bring soda into the house- we’ve gotten healthier too!) Of course if I ever do break down and pick up an official pitter- I think this is the one I would get:
Now, once those cherries are pitted, the fun begins. I always freeze a few for snacking, homemade ice cream, or baked goods (cherry-banana bread anyone?). To freeze I just lay the pitted cherries out in a single layer on a foil lined baking sheet and pop in the freezer until totally hard. Then I transfer the frozen cherries to freezer safe bags. By freezing individually I don’t get a globby mess and can reach in to take just what I need.
Of course, cherry pie is always a popular treat in my house so this recipe from SB Canning is a must: http://www.sbcanning.com/2012/02/cherry-pie-filling-tastes-better-than.html
I like to can some of the cherries in plain water so that I have freedom to sweeten however I want later. For this, I sometimes leave the pits in the cherries as that gives the fruit a slightly almond flavor. My family loves these cherries served with angel food cake and some whipped cream. Just remember to label the jars and warn your guests if you are serving them up with the pits. I use these canning directions from one of my favorite canning websites: http://pickyourown.org/canningcherries.htm
While I try to preserve as much as possible, I also know that we want to enjoy the deliciousness of fresh cherries, so I always designate a couple of pounds for snacking. I also like to make a meal that really showcases the fruit. This year I made this grilled tilapia with cherry salsa from Martha Stewart:
I loved the spicy southwest flavors mixed with the tangy sweetness of the cherries. I’m hoping that this week’s baskets bring more cherries because I would love to try this salad also from Martha Stewart:
Frozen, baked, jammed, pied, or just eaten…whatever you do with them, I hope you consider making cherry season a tradition in your home. Happy cooking!