Last weekend, The Big Lug and I went tart cherry picking about 30 minutes from where we live, at Stuckey Farm, in Sheridan, Indiana, and brought home some serious summertime cherry loot. Little red orbs suddenly took over our kitchen. And, soon, I got busy pitting and transforming them into a magical yet super simple tart cherry pie filling—that is, Mom’s Homemade Tart Cherry Pie Filling.
Mom’s recipe was found printed in the newspaper and soon became a “clipping” kept in her Better Homes & Gardens cookbook. This is how women found “free recipes” back then and many were jewels that became family favorites for years. Her original recipe for the Best Cherry Pie called for 3½ cups fresh or canned tart cherries. I imagine the recipe writer called for nearly 4 cups of either fresh or canned cherries not only to fill a 9-inch pastry-lined pie pan, but also because it would be easy for women to purchase two 16-ounce cans of red sour pitted cherries to make the pie off-season or if tart cherries were unavailable locally when in season.
However, my mom scaled her recipe to yield enough filling to bake deep-dish style in her deep 9-inch pie plate or in her regular 10-inch pie plate and increased the cherries to 5 cups. (I have since added an additional cup bringing it to a whopping 6 cups! But, you can use 5 cups, if you’d like.) Her vintage recipe is unique in that it does not call for water. Instead, it calls for cherry juice. This is pure genius as the filling is made with all cherries…the fruit and the juices.
Mom would let her cherries sit in a large bowl after pitting them and let the juices flow, about 20 minutes or so, despite the recipe not instructing to do so. She would do this while she gathered the rest of her ingredients. Do not be like me and get caught up doing other things (like getting lost at Pinterest!) and allow your cherries to darken at the stem end after pitting them. Work quickly and watch them closely as they turn dark…fast!
If you do not wish to wait for the natural cherry juices to emerge, and wish to work quickly and leave the juices intact for a juicier filling, use 100% Organic Tart Cherry Juice not made from concentrate. I highly recommend Eden Foods® brand as their juice is organic, comes from Michigan Montmorency cherries and contains 17 antioxidants. I buy mine from my local Whole Foods Market.
As with my Very Berry Strawberry Cobbler recipe, I like using a fruit’s own juices whenever possible. And, sometimes, like with my recipe for Cherry Berry Sundae Sauce with Red Wine, I like adding Tormaresca Neprica (Italy), an Italian red with a strong berry flavor profile. Quoting myself here from that recipe, “I mean, why add all that water (some recipes call for 1 to 1½ cups of water, yikes!) which just makes the strawberries swim in a flavorless, often overly sweet, especially runny and not very bright red syrup? Yuck. Adding all that water is just plain wrong.” Exactly. The same goes for our recipe for Mom’s Homemade Tart Cherry Pie Filling.
Mom’s vintage recipe called for flour as a thickening agent, 1 tablespoon of butter and ½ teaspoon almond extract as well as a few drops of red food coloring. The recipe called for the butter to be stirred into the filling. Sometimes I leave the butter in and sometimes I leave it out. (If you’d like to add butter, add 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter to this recipe. The same goes for the red food coloring, if you’d like to add it, add a few drops when you add the almond extract. But, you don’t really need it to create a beautiful red color. It just happens naturally with the help of the cherry juice.) Of course, I enjoy tweaking recipes to improve them and call for tapioca flour in my recipe versus regular all-purpose wheat flour.
Yes, tapioca flour (also known as tapioca starch). Imagine, no more tapioca pearls to whack with a rolling pin or ground tapioca to try to pulverize into powder form in a food processor. Here’s a remark from a discouraged reader of Annie’s Eats commenting on Annie’s lovely Sweet Cherry Pie recipe but sharing her frustrations over tapioca:
Sarah: “I won’t be grinding my tapioca, either. I tried in both my food processor and with the mortar and pestle and it was just too hard!”
Exactly (again). I used to feel the same way. Once I started baking gluten-free recipes a couple years ago, I was introduced to tapioca flour. And, guess what? It is a dream to use when thickening fruit and their juices for cobblers and crisps as well as pies and tarts. Hooray!
In the same post, I extolled all the virtues of using tapioca flour versus flour or cornstarch in my recipe for Very Berry Strawberry Cobbler:
“My second secret is using tapioca starch to thicken the strawberry filling. Tapioca is superior to cornstarch and flour when thickening delicate berries with plenty of juice but not much naturally occurring pectin. Unlike blueberries, strawberries and their juices need a little extra help. Using flour to thicken the especially light juices of strawberries greatly overpowers the flavor and the result is a “gluey” filling. Not good. However, tapioca creates thickened juices that are clear, bright and glossy in appearance as well as maintains the fresh berry flavor. To read more about thickening agents used in pies and cobblers, visit Cook’s Illustrated for the article, How to Thicken Fruit Pies, from July 1, 1995.”
Once again, the same goes for Mom’s Homemade Tart Cherry Pie Filling. Tapioca flour is the way to go for a beautiful glossy red filling with just the right amount of thickness. Easy peasy.
Honest to goodness, this pie filling is incredibly tasty (I couldn’t stop eating it from the spoon!) and easy to prepare. Do not be intimidated. I mean, just look at how short the recipe is. The most difficult or time consuming aspect is pitting the cherries. It only took me 25 minutes to rinse, dry and pit all of mine using this inexpensive gizmo (read: awesome cherry pitter) and with virtually no mess at all. As you will see in the visual step-by-step photos below, I set up my pitting station over a half baking sheet pan lined with absorbent paper towel. This little system works like a dream to keep splatter nearly non-existent.
Of all the cherry pitters I have ever owned, this one is the best and cost the least. Forget those single pitters! One look at Deb over at Smitten Kitchen making her Sweet Cherry Pie will sell you on this little beauty. It captures all the excess juice in the attached bottom tray to keep cherry juice splatter to a minimum versus looking like a murder scene in your kitchen. Plus, did I say this little gizmo is easy to use versus hurting your hand to clamp down on a single cherry at a time? Yep. It pits 4 cherries at a time, too. And, it is a breeze to clean. (No, at this time I am not an Amazon.com affiliate. I just like to share information with my readers about my favorite and recommended kitchen gadgetry.)
Nothing says summer like fresh tart cherry pie filling in a fresh, home-baked pie. And, as I shared with you yesterday, Rose Levy Beranbaum once wrote, “There is something about sour cherries. Their tart flavor is as pure and joyful as the piercingly clear song of a cardinal.” Rose is right. Isn’t she always?
Meanwhile, I hope you will enjoy my “retro recipe revamped” for Mom’s Homemade Tart Cherry Pie Filling! It truly is the very best and offers so many applications. Later this week, I will be featuring recipes incorporating it. I cannot wait to share!
What makes Mom’s Homemade Tart Cherry Pie Filling wicked good? A sumptuous homemade cherry pie filling made with plenty of fresh picked tart “Meteor” cherries (6 cups!) as well as just the right amount of sugar for sweetness and fresh cherry juice for tartness makes our cherry pie filling stand out from the pack. By using tapioca starch as a thickener, versus flour as in the original vintage recipe, or cornstarch, the fresh cherry flavor bursts through the filling instead of being overpowered resulting in a clear and bright look and taste versus lackluster. What’s not to love?
- For the Cherry Pie Filling
- 5 to 6 cups (1135 to 1362 grams) fresh pitted tart cherries, about 2½ to 3 pounds
- 1 to 1¼ cups (200 to 250 grams) granulated organic cane sugar
- 4 tablespoons (30 grams) tapioca flour/starch, such as Bob’s Red Mill®
- Pinch of kosher salt
- ½ cup (about 120 ml) organic tart cherry juice, not from concentrate
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon pure almond extract
- Special Equipment
- Cherry Pitter, such as Progressive International GPC-5000 Cherry-It Multiple Cherry Pitter
Tips:If storing pie filling in the refrigerator, it may separate. To thicken again, reheat filling in a saucepan over medium heat stirring frequently. Cool before using in recipes. When we made this recipe, we made two batches yielding 5 pints or 5 half liter jars full. Recipe Source: WickedGoodKitchen.com
Visual Step-by-Step for Homemade Tart Cherry Pie Filling
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