Even one cherry tree can produce more cherries than a family can eat when they all come ripe at once. You’ve eaten cherries until you’re ready to pop, and the heat in the kitchen is making the thought of baking another cherry pie less than appealing. What’s an easy way to deal with the bounty of cherries we have right now? Freeze them!
Freezing cherries is much faster and easier than canning them, and doesn’t heat up the kitchen. Frozen cherries can keep up to a year.
If you’re not going to freeze your cherries immediately after picking, pick them so the stems stay on. Tearing the stems off can tear the skin of the fruit, which makes them spoil faster than intact fruit. They can be stored in the refrigerator for a week before processing. Handle the cherries gently; you want to avoid freezing ones with bruises. If they are from your own tree and you haven’t sprayed the cherries, a light rinsing is all they need to remove dust, bird deposits and the like. If the tree may have been sprayed after the fruit has formed, a more thorough washing is necessary. Pat the cherries dry gently, and let them get completely dry before freezing.
While cherries can be frozen with the pits in, if they are left this way for many months the fruit can pick up a woody flavor from the pits. It’s also harder to pit a frozen or thawed cherry than a fresh one. If you have a lot of cherries to do, invest in a cherry pitter. It’ll last a lifetime and save you a lot of time over the years. Sometimes you can luck out and find one at a yard sale or thrift store.
You can either put the cherries straight into a plastic bag, in which case they freeze together into a lump, or put them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and freeze them separately and then bag them. This is the preferred way, but I for one don’t have room in my freezer to lay a cookie sheet of round objects flat. Since I’m rarely in need of just a cherry or two, I don’t care if they’re stuck together. A good whack on the counter top breaks them up enough for me!
I find using a plastic bag preferable to using a rigid container because, with a bag, you don’t have to add sugar. Since the object is to keep air from touching the fruit, in a bag you can suck the air out with a straw and then zip it shut. Sucking the air out is a very important step. With a rigid container, you have to use fluid to surround the fruit, and straight water doesn’t work. The bag method is faster, doesn’t require buying sugar, and if you only use part of the container, the container gets smaller. In my freezer, that can be important!
Frozen, thawed cherries can be used in pies or be put in smoothies, but cherries can also be used in savory dishes. They can be used in salsas, in chili, and to make a sweet/savory sauce for pork, chicken or duck. They have lots of antioxidants, so it would be a shame to let any go to waste!