Our sumptuous homemade cherry pie filling, Mom’s Homemade Tart Cherry Pie Filling, is made with plenty of fresh picked tart cherries (6 cups!) as well as just the right amount of sugar for sweetness and fresh cherry juice for tartness making 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. Can also be used as a dessert topping—especially to adorn cheesecakes. Truly, it makes the World’s Best Homemade Tart Cherry Pie!
A Classic American Recipe Revamped:
Tart Cherry Pie Filling and Dessert Topping
Hooray! Cherry season is here and summer is just a few days away!
From late June, to mid-to-late July, both sweet and tart cherries come into season here in the Midwest. Just outside Indianapolis, Indiana is Stuckey Farm where Meteor Tart Cherries can be picked in late June. Then there is our favorite tart cherries in the world, Montmorency Tart Cherries, which are ready for harvesting in mid-to-late July in the Traverse City Bay area in Northern Michigan. Many a summer my husband and I have returned home with some serious summertime cherry loot. Little red orbs suddenly take over our kitchen each summer. Soon, I am up to my elbows busily pitting and transforming them into a magical yet super-simple tart cherry pie filling—Mom’s Homemade Tart Cherry Pie Filling and Dessert Topping.
Mom’s recipe was found printed in the newspaper and soon became a “clipping” kept in her Better Homes & Gardens Cook Book. 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 (662 grams) fresh or canned tart cherries. I imagine the recipe writer called for nearly 4 cups (756 grams) of either fresh or canned cherries not only to fill a 9-inch (23 cm) pastry-lined pie pan, but also because it would be easy for women to purchase two cans of red sour pitted cherries to make the pie off-season or if tart cherries were unavailable locally when in season.
Freshly pitted Montmorency Tart Cherries with sugar and other ingrdients added.
However, my mom scaled her recipe to yield enough filling to bake deep-dish style in her deep 9-inch (23 cm) pie plate or in her regular 10-inch (25.5 cm) pie plate and increased the cherries to 5 cups (945 grams). I have since added an additional cup bringing it to a whopping 6 cups (1135 grams)! However, you can use 5 cups (945 grams), if you prefer. 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 and allow your cherries to darken at the stem end after pitting them. Work quickly and diligently, as well as use a little freshly squeezed lemon juice to prevent browning (directions included in the recipe), then watch them closely as they can turn dark…very fast!
Homemade Tart Cherry Pie with lattice top assembled and ready for baking.
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 (currently being updated), I like using a given fruit’s own juices whenever possible.
Wicked Good Kitchen’s popular Cherry Pie Crumble Bars.
Mom’s vintage recipe for Tart Cherry Pie Filling called for flour as the thickening agent, 1 tablespoon (about 14 grams) of butter and ½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) almond extract as well as a few drops of red food coloring. The recipe also called for the butter to be stirred into the filling. Sometimes I leave the butter in and sometimes I leave it out. If you would like to add butter, add 1 tablespoon (about 14 grams) of unsalted butter to this recipe. The same goes for the red food coloring. If you would like to add it, we highly recommend TruColor™ Natural Food Coloring in Super Red that is a gel-based powder for beautiful red color. When adding to the recipe, we like to add it when adding the pure almond extract.
Mom’s Tart Cherry Pie Filling and Dessert Topping used to top a cheesecake.
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. But, please don’t do that. You will end up dulling your processor’s blades. Not good.
Once I started baking gluten-free recipes several years ago now, I was introduced to tapioca flour. And, guess what? It is a dream to use when thickening fruit and their juices for cobblers, crisps and crumbles as well as pies and tarts. Tapioca flour is indispensable in my kitchen.
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, please see Cook’s Illustrated for the article, How to Thicken Fruit Pies, from July 1, 1995.”
Also, check out the Cook’s Illustrated recipe for Peach Pie (July 1995) that discusses the best method of using tapioca to thicken fruit pies.
Once again, the same goes for Mom’s Homemade Tart Cherry Pie Filling and Dessert Topping. 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. 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 (Progressive Cherry-It Cherry Pitter) is the best and cost the least. Forget those single pitters! 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. Also, it is a breeze to clean.
Freshly picked Meteor Tart Cherries from Stuckey Farm, Sheridan, Indiana.
Nothing says summer like fresh tart cherry pie filling in a fresh, home-baked pie. In fact, Rose Levy Beranbaum (author of The Pie and Pastry Bible) 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 and ever so eloquent. 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.
TruColor™ Natural Food Coloring in Super Red that is a gel-based powder.
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 or Montmorency cherries (6 cups! or 1135 grams) as well as just the right amount of sugar for sweetness, and fresh cherry juice for added 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 both a clear and bright look as well as flavorful taste versus a lackluster one. What’s not to love?
Happy summertime baking!
NOTE: This recipe for Mom’s Homemade Tart Cherry Pie Filling first appeared on Wicked Good Kitchen on July 22, 2013. The article, recipe (metrics added) and images have been updated.
Below are Pinterest-friendly sized images to pin at Pinterest!
Our tart cherry pie filling is made with fresh picked tart cherries, sugar for sweetness and tart cherry juice for tartness as well as natural red food coloring. By using tapioca starch, the fresh cherry flavor bursts through for a sumptuous and gorgeous tart cherry pie filling or topping!
For the Cherry Pie Filling
- 6 cups (1135 g) fresh pitted tart cherries, about 2½ pounds
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1¼ cups (250 g) granulated cane sugar
- 6 to 7 tablespoons (36 to 42 g) tapioca flour (also known as starch)
- ½ teaspoon natural dry red food coloring
- Pinch of fine-grain sea salt, or regular table salt
- ½ cup (120 ml) tart cherry juice, not from concentrate
- ½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) pure almond extract
- ¼ teaspoon (1.25 ml) pure vanilla extract
- Cherry pitter, very helpful
- In a large bowl, gently toss pitted cherries with lemon juice to prevent browning. Set aside.
- In a large saucepan, blend together sugar, tapioca flour, food coloring and salt using a whisk before placing over heat.
- Add cherry juice and whisk over medium-low heat until well blended and sugar dissolves.
- Add pitted cherries and stir until well combined using a silicone (high heat) spatula.
- Increase heat to medium-high, then cook while stirring constantly until mixture reaches a boil. Then, continue to cook, stirring constantly and scraping bottom and sides of saucepan with spatula to prevent scorching and burning until thickened, about 2 to 3 minutes.
- Remove from heat and stir in extracts until blended. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
- Use as a filling or topping immediately in recipes. Store refrigerated in jars with tight-fitting lids.
- Yield: Makes enough filling for one 9- or 10-inch pie, (23 cm or 25.5 cm), about 2½ pints or just over 1 quart (about 1 liter).
Store pie filling refrigerated in jars with tight-fitting lids for up to two (2) days.
If storing pie filling in the refrigerator, it may separate. To thicken again, reheat filling in a saucepan over medium heat stirring frequently. Cool to room temperature before using in recipes.
For Making Tart Cherry Crisp: Add only 6 tablespoons (36 grams) tapioca flour so the filling is juicy and not too thick.
For Making Tart Cherry Pie: Add 7 tablespoons (42 grams) tapioca flour so the filling is nice and thick for slicing pie into pretty pie slices.
For Rich Tart Cherry Pie Filling: When preparing recipe to use as a pie filling vs. a dessert topping, dotting the filling with butter after pouring into unbaked pie shell (but before adding top lattice pie crust) is an option for a richer Tart Cherry Pie Filling. Simply cut 2 tablespoons of chilled unsalted butter (¼ stick or about 28 grams) into small bits then evenly dot top surface of filling before adding top lattice pie crust and baking.
In lieu of the pure almond extract, 1 tablespoon (15 ml) amaretto liqueur may be used.
Wicked Good Kitchen highly recommends selecting organic ingredients whenever possible.
For this recipe, we recommend organic tart cherries, lemons, grass-fed butter and granulated cane sugar. In addition, we recommend Eden Foods® Organic Tart Cherry Juice (not from concentrate and made with Montmorency tart cherries), Arrowhead Mills™ Organic Tapioca Flour, Nielsen-Massey® Organic Pure Vanilla Extract and Nielsen-Massey® Pure Almond Extract as well as TruColor™ Natural Gel Paste Powder Food Coloring (natural dry red food coloring). We also recommend the Progressive Cherry-It Cherry Pitter.
Original Recipe Source: WickedGoodKitchen.com
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