Life is a bowl full of beautiful, tart red cherries perfect for pie! These beauties require a little work to bring them from orchard to pie but fresh pie is worth every minute of cherry prep time.
After picking and washing the cherries the next step in making pie filling is to remove the pits. In Mimi's Kitchen I use Grandma's vintage cherry pitter to make quick work of this step. The pitted cherries can now be turned into pie filling used for fresh pies or ladled into jars and water bath canned for fresh cherry pies long after the harvest is done.
Home-canned cherry pie filling makes a to-die-for pie an easy reality even on a weeknight after a long day at work. All you need to do is make a quick pie pastry, assemble, and bake. I often keep a disk or two of pastry in my freezer, making fresh out of the oven pie a realistic midweek treat.
Fruit pie filling may be canned using a water bath canner. This is far simpler than pressure canning. You do not have to monitor the pressure of an ominous looking contraption shrouded in dire warnings that it could explode covering your kitchen in canning jar shrapnel and garden produce. Water bath canning is nothing more than boiling filled jars in a large pot for a specified time. No need to worry about cherries and shrapnel stuck in your ceiling.
I like to can my filling in both quarts and pints. A quart jar of pie filling makes one 9 inch pie. A pint jar is perfect for one 5" pie. Whereas this small pie will not serve a family it is a great size for 2 people.
Clear gel is a thickening agent that is commonly used in canned fillings. It is far better to use Clear Gel than cornstarch, flour, or tapioca thickening agents when canning pie filling because these more commonly used thickening agents do not respond well to the intense and prolonged heat of water bath canning and may yield an unsightly or even unsafe finished product. Clear gel is not commonly available in grocery stores but may be ordered online. I order mine from Amazon.
Preparing to Can:
Before preparing pie filling you should wash your canning jars and measure out all ingredients. I always prepare more jars than I think I will need. For this recipe prepare 6-8 pints or 2 quart jars. Actual yield will likely be 5-6 pints or 1 quart and 1 pint.
To prepare jars and bands first wash in the dishwasher or in hot, soapy water. Rinse well. Set bands aside. Place jars on a cutting board or other heat proof flat surface. Fill each jar with boiling (or very hot) water. Set aside.
Put the canning lids in a saucepan and cover with water; bring just to a simmer over medium heat. Do not boil. Reduce heat and keep them hot until you are ready to use them.
Fill water bath canner half full of water and bring to a simmer. Keep water at a low simmer until filling is prepared and filled jars are lowered into the hot water.
12-14 cups fresh pie cherries
¾ cup clear gel
3½ cups sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract, optional
¼ cup lemon juice
Pit cherries using a cherry pitter. I prefer Grandma's old fashioned crank cherry pitter but you might have to shop second hand or antique stores to find this wonderful contraption. More modern pitters are readily available through such stores as Amazon and Target. I cannot attest to how well they work.
After pitting the cherries let them rest in a large bowl 30 minutes or until the juices flow. Drain juice from the cherries and measure out 4 cups. Add water to measure 4 cups if the cherries do not yield quite enough juice.
In a large, deep pot mix together sugar and clear gel. Whisk in juice and almond extract and then heat to boiling over medium heat. Boil the mixture 1-2 minutes or until it thickens, stirring constantly. Add lemon juice and then boil 1 minute or until mixture thickens again.
Gently fold in the cherries and return to a bubble. Remove from heat.
Ladle pie filling into prepared jars. Be careful to leave 1 inch headspace since filling will expand during water bath canning process. Carefully wipe the top of each jar with a clean washcloth dipped in hot water then cap each jar with a hot lid. Tighten the band as tightly as you can. Be careful! The jars will be hot. I use a hot pad or towel to hold onto each jar as I tighten the band.
Using a jar lifter carefully load the water bath canner with filled jars. Add more hot water, if needed so that the water level is at least one inch above the jar tops. Pour the added water around the jars and not directly onto them. Put the lid on the canner and turn the heat up so that the water boils vigorously. Process 30 minutes at altitudes below 1,000 feet and for 35 minutes at altitudes between 1,000 and 3,000 feet. For altitudes up to 6,000 feet process 40 minutes.
Set your timer for the appropriate time as soon as the water comes to a full boil. When the jars have been processed in the boiling water for the recommended time, turn off the heat and remove the canner lid. Wait 5 minutes before removing the jars to allow the canner contents to settle.
Using a jar lifter, remove the jars, being careful not to tilt them. Carefully place them directly onto a cutting board or cooling rack. Leave at least one inch of space between the jars while they cool. Do not place the jars on a cold surface or in a cold draft. This could cause a jar to shatter.
Let the jars sit undisturbed for 12 to 24 hours. Do not tighten ring bands on the lids or push down on the center of the lid until the jar is completely cooled.
Remove rings from sealed jars. Wash cooled jars to remove any canning residue and then store in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. If a jar does not seal then store it in the refrigerator and use it first.