Home Canned Cherry pie filling is easy to make at home, and a few jars of it in the pantry means homemade cherry turnovers (one of my favorite desserts) is always fresh at hand.
Up here in the north country, we can’t really grow those big sweet bing cherries that were a staple of my childhood in California. They’re not hardy here, but no matter, the best pie cherries grow in cold climates instead!
Sour cherries, tart cherries or pie cherries, as they’re better known are hardy to zone 4 and they’re packed with cherry flavor. They don’t have much sweetness, but once you’ve added sugar as you do in cherry pie filling, they’re hard to beat.
Sweet cherries, on the other hand, don’t make particularly good pies. They have lots of flavor for fresh eating, but it all melts away when you try to bake them into a pie.
The problem with cherries, tart or otherwise, is that they don’t last long. Pie cherries have at best a week before they spoil, and we can only eat so many fresh cherry pies. Canning cherry pie filling solves that problem neatly and ensures I can always have one of my very favorite desserts…cherry turnovers.
Canning Cherry Pie Filling
Start by pitting all the cherries. We have a small hand pitter that works wonderfully, and my 4-year-old daughter loves this job. There’s something satisfying about popping the little seed out that really brings a smile to her face, and I’m happy for an hour of quiet while she goes to work.
It also works wonders on our wild plums, which aren’t that much bigger than cherries anyway.
The next step is to freeze the cherries. I know, that sounds strange. Why freeze fresh cherries when you’re just going to can them? Freezing pops their cells and allows the cherries to release their juices without completely falling apart. If you cook the tart cherries fresh, they’ll dissolve quickly and turn into jam.
Freezing them first is an important step, which means you can actually just harvest all the cherries, pit them and freeze them for later canning when the weather is cooler. All that juice doesn’t go to waste, half of it (4 cups) gets thickened up into the finished cherry pie filling and the other half can be saved for summer drinks or homemade cherry pancake syrup.
Extra cherry juice will keep in the fridge for several weeks, or in the freezer for a full year.
This recipe comes from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving and is a tested canning recipe for use with a water bath canner.
- 10 lbs frozen tart red cherries, thawed, juice reserved
- 3 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 cup Clear Gel (Cook Type For Canning)
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- Place the thawed tart cherries in a colander over a large bowl and allow them to drain, collecting the juice. It should take 1-2 hours to collect the required 8 cups of juice.
- Prepare a water bath canner and canning jars while the juice is straining.
- I a large saucepan, whisk together 4 cups cherry liquid, sugar, clear gel and cinnamon. Stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Cook until it begins to thicken. (Important: Note that only 4 cups of cherry liquid is used here)
- Add lemon juice, and return the mixture to a boil for 1 minute.
- Add the cherries to the pot, and return the mixture to a boil. Stir thoroughly, and be sure the whole pot is heated at this step because any cool spots will cause trouble during the canning process.
- Remove from heat and ladle into prepared canning jars, leaving 1 inch headspace.
- Screw on 2 part lids to finger tight and process in a water bath canner for 35 minutes. Turn off heat and allow the jars to sit in the canner for another 5 minutes before removing them to cool.
Note that only 4 cups of juice are used in the filling, but a total of 8 cups is collected. Removing this extra juice helps to make a more cherry chunk filled pie filling and is required for this recipe. Save that extra juice for summer drinks, or use it to make cherry pancake syrup by cooking it with equal parts sugar.
Sweet Black Cherry Pie Filling Variation: To make canned pie filling with sweet black cherries, drain the cherries until you've collected about 7 cups of juice (they're less juicy by a bit), decrease the sugar to 2 or 2 1/2 cups and increase the lemon juice to 1/3 or 1/2 cup. Still only use 4 cups of juice in the filling, and reserve the remaining juice for drinks or other cooking.
More Home Canned Pie Filling Recipes
Looking for more fun canning recipes? Try any of these pie filling canning recipes: