My mom helped me to bring the girls out to pick cherries last Friday (I don’t know what I’d do without her!) We went to Olde Chautauqua Farms and picked 101 pounds between the two of us. We had the dubious distinction of being the largest quantity non-amish pickers so far this year! For my house, that meant a bucket of sweets for eating and the rest in sours for canning- about 74 lbs of cherries total. After picking there last year, we pitted all the cherries with paperclips (they don’t have pitting service, but they’re a lot cheaper and it’s much quieter to pick there than the big cherry place a few miles away). That prompted me to look around and invest in a pitter. I found one on ebay last summer for a very good price and even got an apple peeler/slicer/corer for “free” with it. It’s an old cast iron “Mt Joy” pitter- a crank style with a plunger to push out the pits.
It took a little bit of practice to figure out it’s features. If you have one you haven’t used yet, or are thinking about getting one, maybe this will be helpful info. It will plunge out the pit (usually), then the skewered cherry lifts up with the plunger and is knocked off the plunger at the top of it’s cycle. It falls off the plunger into your awaiting bowl (usually). Originally, these had a leather gasket. I made one from a plastic milk jug and one from a piece of vinyl, but next year I think I’ll look harder for a scrap of leather to make one out of. These did’t hold shape well where the plunger goes down through. When the gasket doesn’t hold it’s shape, a small cherry can get mushed into the pitting hole and get stuck there rather than lifting back up. It WILL plunge out the pit without the gasket, but the pit often won’t detach from the flesh of the cherry without it (even a poor gasket like the ones I tried helped considerably). A loose-fleshed larger cherry can easily hide a pit if it’s just pushed to the side rather than down by the plunger. The hopper isn’t very big (but better than doing them one at a time like a hand pitter!) and keeping them rolling down to the plunger is a constant job. I finally (after 3 canner loads- 2 plain cherries that I didn’t notice the pits, and one cherry pie filling that was riddled with pits from the mixing involved) figured out I still had a lot of pits. So I sat on a chair and watched for the pits to fall out underneath. It saved my feet from standing, too. Don’t know why I didn’t try it sooner! I took a bit longer, but I got MOST of the pits that way. At least any pits I canned were whole, not fragments like you can get from the big mechanical pitters a the fields.
End tally for me: 14 quarts plain sour cherries, 18 quarts cherry pie filling, and a couple cups of pie filling that we partially used over french toast. Plus several pounds of sweets that we’ve been eating fresh.
This shows the pie filling (left) and regular cherries (right). There will be bubbles throughout the jar of pie filling.
For canned pie filling, I used my favorite pie recipe, but with clearjel rather than cornstarch (which isn’t supposed to be used in canning). It’s from Taste of Home and compared very closely to the pie filling recipes in my “Putting Food By” book, it just doesn’t contain any lemon juice. I know lemon juice is added sometimes to ensure a safe pH for hot water bath canning, but I don’t believe that cherries are anywhere close to borderline, and as the added ingredients shouldn’t be affecting the pH much either, I didn’t add any to my recipe.
For the pie, the original recipe is:
4 cups of cherries
1 cup cherry juice
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/4 t nutmeg
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t almond flavoring
Combine juice and cornstarch in a saucepan, whisk in, then stir in sugar. Heat and stir until thickened/jelled. Remove from heat. stir in nutmeg, cinnamon, and almond. Add paste to cherries and mix well.
For one canner load (7 quarts) this is what I used. A few ingredients are decreased.
28 cups cherries
7 cups cherry juice/water
7 cups sugar
2 cups clearjel
1 t nutmeg
1 1/2 t almond flavoring
1 1/2 t cinnamon
Follow directions for 1 pie, but use a really big bowl or pot! Spoon hot filling into jars, run a spatula around in the jar to decrease big air bubbles and top off jars as needed. Process for 30 minutes.
After getting all those cherries canned, I convinced John to let me buy a few re-usable canning lids from Tattler (reusablecanninglids.com). My lid supply is low, so I’ll have to be buying some before too long, anyhow, and the regular lids just keep getting more expensive! They had a discount code for orders placed through July 4th that I was able to take advantage of (you can find discount codes when available on their Facebook page). I’ve only been able to find basically positive reviews for them so far, so my expectations are high. They are more expensive, but if I re-use them half a dozen times, they will pay for themselves, then savings from then on out. For what it’s worth, they’re also BPA free. I honestly haven’t explored that much in our household, but it’s a benefit. I’ll have to update once I get them in the mail and try them.