Cherry Basics: Sweet, Tart, and More

by Jane Wangersky | August 15th, 2014 | Cooking Basics

cherriesCherries, like many summer fruits, will disappear if you just leave them out in plain sight. Much as I like to eat them raw myself, it causes a reaction in me, so I’ve got to take my cherries cooked or not at all. Thus, for a short time each summer while they’re at their best, I spend some time cooking cherries in various ways, and I’ll share what I’ve learned.

Of all summer fruits, cherries are maybe the most work to get ready for cooking. You will need to take off the stems, cut the cherries in half, and dig the pits out — at least that’s how I do it. Yes, there are gadgets that do it, and there’s even a YouTube Video that tells you how to make your own cherry pitter, but I haven’t found it worthwhile. Yet. Though it can also be used on olives, year-round . . .

There are sweet cherries and tart cherries — pretty self-explanatory. The sweet can be eaten as is, unless you’re like me, and both are fine for cooking.

You should get cherries washed and pitted before the bread machine gets too far along its cycle or the oven heats up fully. Chopping them into about four to six pieces each works for most recipes.

Pitting cherries is messy and takes time, and, of course, it destroys the shape of the fruit. So you’ll often see unpitted cherries garnishing drinks and even sitting on the tops of cakes. It depends on what’s important to you. Part of the mess is due to the stains from the cherry juice. Rainier cherries, the cultivar with the lighter, golden color, are not supposed to do this, so you may want to try them. Be aware they’re usually more expensive than the older kind.

For a different kind of cherry pie filling, try this custard-like version — the recipe is copyrighted (it’s in The Joy of Cooking, which is to me what Peg Bracken called “my big fat cookbook”), but I’ll give you the ratio. For every ⅔ cups cherries, use ¼ each sugar and sour cream, plus one egg. Bake this in an already-baked pie crust or tart shells at 325 till the filling is firm.

For a really different kind of “cherry” pie filling — with no cherries at all — mix equal parts cranberries, raisins, sugar, and water with a dash of vanilla and a little flour to thicken. This comes from a vintage cookbook by Edith M. Thomas — cooks knew how to substitute back then.

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