Freezing cherries is the easiest and quickest method of preserving your harvest. If your cherry tree produces more cherries than you know what to do with, as most tart cherries do, try pitting and freezing them in "pie quantity" packages. They freeze well and keep for several years.
I have a single, semi-dwarf North Star Cherry tree that produces heavily every spring. as it grows, it produces more every year. At the time I write this, the tree has been planted for 8 years, and this spring produced 39 quarts of of pitted frozen cherries - that's more than 9 gallons!
Fortunately, we have developed a market for these cherries, and manage to sell most of them every year - leaving us just enough for a couple of pies. That single tree has paid for itself many times over and in fact had paid for my entire orchard. Here's how to prepare and freeze cherries for long term storage and use.
Freezing Cherries - Picking and cleaning
Cherries should be picked at the height of ripeness, which means that you will have to pick them over a period of a week to ten days. Pick every third day or so, to allow the unripened fruit to ripen fully before you pick them. Birds LOVE cherries, so if you actually want to harvest any of your cherries, you should cover your tree with bird netting before any cherries start to get ripe.
Cherries should be cleaned and frozen as soon as they are picked, so don't let them sit if you can avoid it.
Clean cherries by rinsing them off in a sink or dishpan full of cold tap water. Cherries will sink to the bottom, and leaves and other debris will float to the top where you can easily remove them.
Freezing Cherries - Pitting
It's important to remove the pits (seeds) from your cherries before you freeze them. If you have a small amount of cherries to pit you can simply squeeze the pits out by pinching them between your thumb and index finger, from the bottom towards the stem scar. They should simply pop out.
If you have a larger quantity, I'd suggest that you get a cherry pitter to do the heavy lifting.
Most cherry pitters have a small hopper tray that feeds cherries individually into the pitter itself.
The business end of a cherry pitter consists of a spring-loaded pin that you push or slap through the cherry. This pin is shaped so that it traps the cherry pit and pushes it out the bottom and into small container that collects that pits.
The spring causes the pin to retract. When it does, it lifts the pitted cherry out clearing the way for the next one to drop in. The pitted cherries drop into a chute to collect in a bowl or tray.
Freezing Cherries - Packaging
I pack cherries in quart sized zipper-seal bags. I use a quart sized Pyrex pitcher to measure them out, then pour them into the bags. Squeeze out as much air from the bag as you can before sealing it.
There will quite a bit of juice produced by the pitting process that you can add to the cherries. As the pit box fills up, I'll even strain off the juice that has collected in there onto the cherries before discarding the pits. This juice helps cover the cherries in the freezer bags and helps prevent freezer burn. It's also good to add into pies.
Pitted and frozen cherries packaged this way will keep in your freezer for several years with minimal deterioration. I've had cherry pies made from ten year old cherries that are still lip-smacking good!
Be sure to label your packs of cherries with what's in the bag (even if you think you can tell by looking...), and at least the year that they were frozen. That way you can assure a good inventory management system. Always use the oldest first. Just remember "FIFO" - first in (to your freezer) first out (to be eaten).
I have found that an "industrial" sharpie marker is by far the best marker for labeling freezer bags and canning jar lids. They seem to stand the test of time better then even a regular sharpie marker.
Freezing cherries, whether home grown or bought fresh locally is a simple but effective way to enjoy fresh tasting fruit year round, and is a simple skill that can increase your self sufficiency.
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