There was a time when I was a youngster, I didn’t like cherry pie. Or pretty much cherry anything. I couldn’t really “get it” because I love cherries so it would stand to reason I should love things made with cherries. I was boggled. Until once, when I was just a kid, about 19, a neighbor dropped off a paper grocery bag full of cherries from her tree and I needed to do something with them. Even then, I knew what a precious gift that was! And so came about abut my Home-made Cherry Pie Filling.
And when I made a pie with it, that pie rocked my world. It turns out that it was the canned filling so often used in cherry pies that I didn’t like. I think I just found it too thick, too sweet, too cloying. Like cough syrup. And my homemade pie filling is anything but! And it turns out making Home-made Cherry Pie Filling is as easy as…well, pie!!
About Home-made Cherry Pie Filling:
So if love cherries, if you love things like cherry pie or anything else that’s normally made with cherry pie filling, even if you don’t mind the canned filling, I urge you to try your hand at a Home-made Cherry Pie Filling. It’s a total game-changer. When you make this easy pie filling, you can make it just how you like it. Make it more or less sweet, add a little or a lot of lemon, maybe an extract like almond – that’s a classic pairing.
You’re going to have other customizing options, too. Leave your cherries whole and fresh (but pitted) or cook them down to soft, juicy jamminess. Make this with any kind of cherries you want. Small sour cherries, cute little red ones, the large, sweet, deep purply ones. It’s not a canned filling so you can break any canning rules!! (More on those rules, below.) So come be a kitchen rebel with me!
This recipe will make enough for a pie or two (it’s the equivalent of 2 cans of filling) or if you’re like I was and faced with a lot of fresh cherries you can use this recipe to preserve them by freezing. Heck, you don’t have to have a paper grocery bagful of cherries to do that. When I made this batch I was just a little over-excited (hello, cherries – it was a long winter and I missed you!) and overbought when they showed up at the store.
You can use your filling anywhere you’d normally use a canned cherry pie filling. I decided I wanted to make Cherry Cheesecake Bars and when the recipe called for Cherry Pie Filling, I just subbed in. And they were slammin’. And I do the same with all kinds of things besides just pie. And what a difference it makes! This even makes a fantastic dessert or ice cream topping when warm.
Making Home-made Cherry Pie Filling:
The only hard part about making your own pie filling? Pitting the cherries. It’s messy and the juice stains. Back when I was 19 I didn’t have a cherry pitter (they’re about six bucks) and pitted all those cherries with a paring knife. My hands were purple for days. So get yourself a pitter if you love things cherry, wear a pair of gloves and an old shirt in case of splatters, make sure you pit them in a place that won’t be difficult to clean afterward. Like maybe not in front of your white French country canisters that sit on the counter, lol. Don’t ask how I know. And use an old rag for clean up, not your nice kitchen towels or washrags.
There’s a proportion for the cherries and the cornstarch; a tablespoon per 1/2 pound, to mimic the standard pie filling. A little extra lemon flavor can be added by using the zest, and you can add more or less sugar without affecting the final filling too much as long as you stay kind of in the range. I like more sugar for sour cherries, less for the sweeter ones. Try adding the smaller amount of sugar and tasting it before the cornstarch goes in. You’ll know if it’s right for you and if it’s not sweet enough, add more.
I think this filling is the perfect consistency, but if, after the filling is cool to room temperature, if for any reason it’s too thick, it can always be thinned with just a touch of water. I’ve never found it too thin, but if that’s the case, it will have to be heated again and a little more cornstarch added. You can do this with the cherries in the mixture (they’ll get softer) or strain out the cherries, heat the juices and add the cornstarch. Combine the cherries and juices afterward. You won’t be able to really judge the consistency at a hot or cold temperature; it has to be room temperature just like the canned stuff is. You’ll get a feel for it when you make it the first time.
Technical Stuff About Canning & Freezing Cherries:
Canned fillings, whether commercial or homemade, unlike this recipe, have to follow a lot of rules. There has to be the right proportion of cherries to sugar and acid to properly preserve it, and that usually makes them pretty sweet. If you’d like to see a recipe suitable for preserving (or canning, or “putting up” which is the term I grew up with) check out Cherry Pie Filling from the National Center for Home Preservation. I love that site and use it all the time.
If you want to make a pie or two or “put up” a bunch of cherries in the freezer, portioned out later to use, the recipe here is the recipe you want. You do need some sugar and some lemon for the sweet and the acid, but you can play around with this recipe just about any way you want. When I first got that bounty of cherries as a young adult, I portioned and packed some for freezing and made a pie with some of them. How I knew how to do that, the cooking to stop the enzymatic action (read about that at the University of Minnesota Extension) and using sugar and lemon, I don’t recall. I must have read about it somewhere.
You cannot freeze this pie filling with the cornstarch in it. It will just not work out well. If you’re freezing, make a note on the container of the date, the amount and of how much cornstarch needs to go in when thawed. When making a pie where the filling will get all hot and bubbly, just mix the thawed cherries & juices with the cornstarch and add it to the pie shell. If you’re planning on using the filling in another type of recipe, just heat to boiling, juices and all, add in the cornstarch and it should thicken immediately. Note that the fruit, once frozen will be soft to begin with so it’s likely you will want to cook the cherries for a minimum amount of time both before freezing and after it’s thawed if you’re bringing it to a boil to thicken the cornstarch.
Saving Money on Home-made Cherry Pie Filling:
The best way to save money on this recipe is to buy your cherries in season. Grow your own, check with friends, check farmer’s markets and watch for killer sales at the grocery.
I just made this recipe again when I bought a bunch of cherries at Aldi. The sign said $1.49 and I thought it was priced by the bag. It was a steal. I didn’t realize that for some items, Aldi is now charging by the pound. Oops. Rookie mistake – but still a great deal.
Home-made Cherry Pie Filling
- about 2 pounds fresh cherries, about 4 cups pitted; you may wish to halve large cherries
- 1/2 to 2/3 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1 cup water
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon almond extract, to taste
- 4 tablespoons cornstarch
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine cherries, water, lemon juice, and sugar. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, for several minutes or until cherries give up their juices and are at desired doneness.
Add cornstarch mixed with a little water and bring to a boil. The filling will thicken almost immediately. Remove from heat, cool slightly and add the extract.
May be used as a topping warm or just like a pie filling once cooled to room temperature. Keeps well for several days in the refrigerator, If stored too long, it may get watery.
Note: 2 cups are about the same as a 21 ounce can of pie filling.
May be frozen before adding cornstarch. The amount may be slightly different than the four cups you’ll get after the cornstarch is added; just divide the recipe in half and make sure to label to put the right amount of cornstarch in once thawed. IF freezing in a Ziploc, make sure all the air is out. If freezing in a hard container, leave a little space at the top, about a half an inch, for expansion. Cover closely with plastic wrap, then lid.
I’ll be bringing Home-made Cherry Pie Filling to Fiesta Friday 178. Stop by and see all the fun posts and recipes (hint: you may find something for the 4th of July) and stop back on Tuesday to vote for your favorites.