Summer's first harvest

In June the arrival of the plump, sweet dark red cherries marks the beginning of summer fruit. Cherries have a short picking season of about 4 weeks, so you have to act quickly and get them while they are ripe! There are many cherry farms in Southern Ontario, but why pay for fruit when you go to your backyard and pick them? Many, many years ago, my family decided to buy some cherry trees and enjoy some locally grown fresh fruit.

But, the only problem with cherries is that they have an extremely short shelf life and need to be consumed or used relatively quickly. So what do you do if you want to enjoy cherries all year round? There are several ways to perserve the cherries for later use: freezing, dehydrating and canning. Personally, I prefer to freeze my cherries either pitted or in a pre-mixed cherry pie filling.

Now before you can prepare the cherries, you must have one key tool on hand.....the cherry pitter. It basically looks like a mini hole puncher for cherries and it is the only way to unpit a cherry......without eating it!

Freeze pitted cherries.
1. Wash cherries and unpit........warning do not wear white, cherry juice is harder to get out than red wine!

2. Place cherries in one layer on a cookie sheet and place in the freezer for at least an hour.
Note some people say that rolling your cherries in sugar and freezing them preserves them longer, but I can never get my stock to last very long and I don't like to sweeten my fruit before I add them to recipies, so I don't recommend this.

3. Once the cherries are frozen place into ziploc bags or containers for future use!

Freeze cherry pie filling

2 pounds of sweet (Bing) cherries pitted and halved and their juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 -3 tbsp cornstarch
zest of 1 large lemon

1. Wash, pit and halve the cherries, reserving the juice. Place in a large mixing bowl
2. Add sugar, lemon zest and 1 tbsp of cornstarch. Stir.

3. Add more cornstarch depending on the amount of juice reserved. You want the pie filling to look thick and glossy.

4. Pour into a container and freeze.

When you are ready to use simply defrost and use with your favourite frozen or homemade pie crust!

Bon Appétit