Here are some easy ways to preserve cherries, including how to get cherries in bulk and equipment to process and preserve them – canning, dehydrating, freezing, recipes and more! Cherries are a swift crop – one day ripe, the next day gone. Save those tasty treats for later in the year by learning a few simple ways to preserve cherries.
To learn more DIYs and self-sufficient helps, be sure to read the Homestead Kitchen chapter of The Do It Yourself Homestead. Don’t have your own copy? No worries, we wrote one just for you here! To learn more about the book, simply click below. To request a free sample from the book, just email me at Tessa@homeseadlady.com.
Preparing Cherries to Preserve
We’ll be talking about several ways to preserve cherries, including:
Before you can preserve them, though, cherries will require washing and pitting. This is true of any stone fruit, but cherry pits are small and a little more tedious to remove. I recommend you purchase either kind of cherry pitter shown below:
Get the Kids Involved
Growing up, we had two huge cherry trees in our backyard. We spent several weeks in late spring hand-pitting hundreds of cherries with only a knife. That’s right – a knife and our little hands did all the work. The mounds of cherries would slowly disappear as we laughed and complained together; we were pittin’ machines!
As an adult, I’ve graduated to a hand-held cherry pitter and even a cherry stoner machine. (As an old Californian, I always laugh when I read “cherry stoner” – they’re really mellow cherries, man). The large, Bing-type cherries fit really well in my cherry stoner machine. My sour cherries are a little too small to make the stoner as effective, so I use the hand-held pitter.
If you and your kids get through the pitting, don’t toss those cherry pits out! Use them to make these Cherry Pit Heating Pads from Joybilee Farm.
Sour Cherry or Sweet Cherry?
Sweet cherries are the cherries most people are familiar with. They’re large, sweet and typically the variety sold in stores. They’re the most commonly grown and most widely recognized. Bing and Tulares are two common varieties. Sweet cherries can be eaten out of hand and are also wonderful in cakes, custards, ice cream and pies.
Sour cherries, which sometimes called “pie cherries”, are typically too tart to be eaten out of hand. However, they make wonderful preserves jams and jellies, as well as pie filling. Sour cherries have just the right balance of tart to blend in with whatever sweeten you choose to add. They are smaller than sweet cherries, so you’ll need more of them for baking into a pie. One really neat thing about sour cherries, if you’re growing them in your backyard, is that they’re self fertile so you only need to plant one to get fruit.
Which Sweetener to Use?
For food preservation in the past, we’ve used:
- raw sugar
We no longer use regular table sugar, though it works.
All these sweeteners have their merits. (Except table sugar which should never be consumed by humans. Or lab rats. Or street rats.)
This year we used an organic cane sugar – a little more processed than succanat but a little less toxic than table sugar.
Ways to Preserve Cherries
So, first we’ll cover canning and the different ways you can preserve whole cherries, and also items like cherry jam. Then we’ll talk about dehydrating, both whole cherries and fruit leather. Finally, we touch on freezing whole cherries.
Canning to Preserve Cherries
As with most fruit, cherries can be preserved in a water bath canner, which takes a lot less time than a pressure cooker. There are several options and ways to can cherries:
- whole cherries – Simple Canning will teach you how – click here
- cherry pie filling – This is a Simply Canning recipe that I use, though I reduce the sugar a bit –click here
- cherry jam or jelly – This is a recipe for a smaller batch to start with from Grow a Good Life – click here.
We also made a cherry ice cream topping. Don’t be fooled by the fancy name, though. “Ice Cream Topping” is the fancy name I usually give to that one batch of jam that refuses to set up.
If you’d like to learn how to have perfect and tasty jams every time, I highly recommend this little booklet. It’s NOT intimidating in the least – something I sometimes don’t like about big canning books. Too much of a good thing. Fiercely DIY Guide to Jams is the perfect place to start with jams and jellies.
Dehydrating to Preserve Cherries
We also dehydrated nine racks of the ruby beauties at a living foods setting (below 115 degrees), but you can choose any temperature you prefer. The higher the temperature, the quicker the fruit dries. Just be careful not too heat it too much or it will burn!
Dehydrating is something I highly recommend you do with cherries, if you can. Wow, are dried cherries good in salads and breads or straight out of your hand!
How to Dehydrate Cherries:
- Dehydrator – here’s an article from The Spruce – pay special attention to their “conditioning” advice at the end – click here
- Oven – here’s an article from The Kitch’n to explain how to dehydrate food in the oven – click here
- Solar Oven – here’s our article on how to dehydrate apple slices but you can apply it to cherries, as well – click here
If you have cherries that are still good, but are a little on the soft side, don’t despair! Use them to make cherry fruit leather that your kids will love.
Follow these instructions for making fruit leather, replacing apricots for cherries – click here.
How to Use Dehydrated Cherries
Keep dehydrated cherries for up to a year in a cool, dark place. If they last that long. We end up going through our stash way before then.
Use dehydrated cherries:
- As a quick snack or in the lunch box
- Added to home-popped popcorn
- On top of homemade ice cream
- Into the kid’s homemade trail mix
- Tossed into cold breakfasts and added to baked oatmeal
- Added to smoothies, curries and fruit crisps
Freezing and Cooking
Freezing is a simple way to temporarily preserve cherries. If freezing is all you have the time for, here’s how to freeze cherries successfully from Simply Canning – click here.
To learn more about long-term and short-term food storage items, be sure to check out the Health-Wise Food Storage section of The Prepared Homestead chapter of our book, The Do It Yourself Homestead. For a free sample of that chapter, just email me at Tessa@homesteadlady.com.
Where to Find Cherries in Bulk
Grow Your Own
The best way to insure that you have a large harvest of cherries is to grow them yourself. Here are some tips on how to do that:
- From Better Homes and Gardens, here are the basics of growing cherries – click here.
- To learn how to plant a Cherry Tree Guild, ala permaculture, visit this link from Tenth Acre Farm – click here.
- A great book for anyone with orchards of any size is this one – it includes anything you’ll ever need to know about maintaining fruit trees in a backyard setting.
A Word on Worms
Cherries tend to get worms something fierce. Accept that and move on.
I’m an organic grower, so stuff like that doesn’t freak me out nearly as much as some other things do. (Snakes, for example: they can move, but they don’t have any legs. That’s just wrong.)
However, no one likes to dig worms out of their preserves; its just not appetizing. There are lots of methods of control:
- organic spray
- more spray
- more lures
- nuclear blast
Here’s how to grow cherries organically from Rodale’s Organic Life – click here.
Try Chickens for Cherry Worm Control
All last year, I ran my chickens in my orchard hoping that they’d help keep down emerging nasty bugs from turning into adult moths and flies come spring. The chickens took care of our emerging worms! BUT, not our neighbors’ and I didn’t get around to spraying (organic).
Consequently, we lost all our yellow cherries which, the birds don’t bother much because of their color. We’ve had some worms in our sour cherries (with no spray) and there were some in the sweet cherries (with pheromone lures). However, we just picked them out and gave them to the chickens who were very appreciative.
My three year old kept calling them cute – “Look, mamma, I found another little worm; isn’t he cuuuuute?!”
Uh, yeah, adorable, Sweetie – now squish him.
Bottom line, nothing is perfect, but ripe cherries come as close as you can expect to get on earth and the chickens can help keep them worm-free-er.
Don’t Want to Grow Your Own Cherries?
If you don’t want to mess with growing cherries, never fear! Here’s an economical solution, if you live where cherry trees grow.
(If you don’t live in an area where cherries grow and can’t find any in bulk for a reasonable price, I suggest you pick a different fruit to preserve. There’s not sense fretting over what can’t be. Try blueberries, strawberries, currants or elder berries instead.)
U-pick Cherry Orchards
The family was miraculously all home together on a Saturday, so we drove down to a U-Pick cherry farm. Even though we have a small orchard at home, my family LOVEs to go to these places.
U-Pick enterprises are such a great idea, in my opinion. If you want to save a bit of money by picking product yourself go find a farm near you at www.pickyourown.org.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m a big fan of farmer’s markets and of large, family gardens. However, there’s something exciting about u-pick enterprises. There’s a unique charm to meeting family farmers and scuttling up their trees and orchard ladders.
My kids think the whole thing is one big scavenger hunt and I must admit that us grown ups get caught up in the excitement, too. My children are used to being hauled thither and yon for a “picking experience” and they’re good sports about toting home so many pounds of fruit that we spend the next several days figuring out ways to preserve cherries.
Don’t dismiss cooking as a way to use up those delectable cherries! Of course we don’t want to wait until the fall to taste the cherries of summer!