Freezing Sour Cherries

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I think when someone mentions cherries the first thought that comes to mind are the sweet summer fruits, easily found at farmer’s markets and in grocery stores.  But for me sour cherries are where it is at. Also know as pie cherries or tart cherries, these bright red little gems are more pucker inducing than a sour patch kid. Most people don’t eat them raw, but I have no qualms about popping a few fresh tart cherries in my mouth.

Sour cherries have an incredibly short season, and it can be hard to get your hands on them. But it is worth the effort of finding some, nothing compares to a pie filled with sour cherries. I personally have no shame and harass/stalk/beg a friend who is a fruit farmer for sour cherries, and no I will not reveal my source.

So once you have gotten your sour cherries, by any means necessary you are going to want to save them so you can enjoy pies and cherry almond kuchen all year. Luckily sour cherries freeze beautifully, but you are going to want to work fast, sour cherries are extremely perishable, even in refrigeration you probably only have a couple of days once the cherries are picked.

Freezing Sour Cherries

You will most likely get your cherries by the market basket. I get mine in a bucket of water because they are shaken off the tree for commercial use rather than picked by hand.  Either way you are going to want to give them a quick rinse with cold water to clean them off.


Bucket of Cherries
Last years cherries. This years came in a red bucket and did not photograph well.

Once the cherries are washed the fun begins. Pitting.

Last year I lamented that I did not have a pitter and had channel my inner MacGyver and improvise with a ballpoint pen.  I was prepared this year and actually bought a pitter, but I think my pitter missed the mark. I bought a single pitter. For the quantity I was dealing with I could’ve used something a little bigger.  I have my sights set on this one for next year:

My five-gallon bucket full of cherries took me about 3 hours to pit. I know it sounds like drudgery, but is not actually that bad if you find a good movie to watch while you do it.  Hello Lifetime!Pitting Cherries

Once the cherries are pitted all you need to do is put them in freezer bags. I measure mine out, and place 3 cups in a quart freezer bag. This amount of cherries per bag works well for me, my favorite cherry pie filling recipe calls for 6 cups of sour cherries, and I need about half that for a cherry danish for kuchen.

The pitting process creates a ton of juice, try to distribute the juice evenly to the bags of cherries. The extra liquid will offer some protection from freezer burn, and it also good in pies.

Don’t forget to label and date your cherries before you put them in the freezer.  I like to lay my packages of cherries flat on a cookie sheet so I can stack them up neatly in my freezer once they are frozen solid.

Frozen bagged sour cherries

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  1. If you live in Utah you can get fresh pre pitted sour cherries with or without sugar at McMullin Orchards in Payson. 5 gallons for $50 or 8 pounds for $20 in 2023. The season just started and they will be available for a few weeks. I am up to my elbows in cherries. Your welcome:)

  2. My nephew brought home a big container of tart cherries from a job site. None of us really like cherry pie, but I’m wondering if the frozen fruit can be added to muffins and other quick breads, as well as cakes. I’m thinking that a cherry almond sour cream pound cake would be divine!

  3. My cherry tree is loaded this year and a pitter is to arrive today. It supposedly will pit 25 pounds of cherries in an hour. It’s raining today to tomorrow is going to be cherry picking day.

  4. My neighbor gave me a huge bag of his sour cherries for me to pass onto my mom who bakes with them. She was on vacation at the time so I threw them straight into the freezer, unwashed and with the pits. When I told my mom she said that they probably could not be used now. What is your opinion on this? Is it because they are dirty? Or does freeing them with the pits destroy the flavor? I’d love to be able to use them still.

    1. @Cope Kathy, Absolutely. I’m a retired pastry chef. Keep the unbaked pie in your freezer until you’re ready to bake it.

  5. I grew up in fruit country, but that’s another story. Hitting sour cherries in season is a spiritual experience, and a gift from Goddess. That said, I picked way more than I can handle. Your site was wonderful, and the advice I needed. I’ve frozen the black sours, but never the red sours. I didn’t realize how delicate the red sours are. And the juice! Fruit loses its flavor without sugar added. I am afraid that will happen with the sours.

    1. I keep my frozen cherries in my freezer for a year, although they will usually remain safe to eat after that. If you go over the year mark, keep an eye out for discoloration that may have developed on the frozen cherries, or for freezer burn that has set in. Freezer burnt fruit is generally safe to eat, but it changes the texture and flavor.

  6. So you freeze without putting any sugar correct? I am getting 10 lbs. of pitted sour cherries soon and wanted to make some preserves and also freeze for pies. This will be my first time doing this and I want to make sure I don’t ruin any of them!

  7. We order our fresh picked pitted cherries every year from Patterson’s Fruit Farm in Chesterland, OH 44026. They are absolutely delicious. You can make almost any cherry dessert with them, or freeze them for future cherry pies. Good Luck and thank you for your recipes.

      1. If you are in West Michigan (just west of the Grand Rapids area) there are several orchards with sweet and sour cherries. Rasch cherries and Gavin orchards are two of them. Rasch has picked or u-pick, while Gavins has picked for sweet, but only u-pick for the sours. Rasch has a large pitter available to have them pit your cherries, but they do discolor quickly after pitting them. I bring my containers to the orchards and also add some sugar to them for the sour cherries. If you have a cooler that is a good idea. You can enjoy a trip to Lake Michigan while in the area.

    1. I know time is of the essence when dealing with cherries, and sometimes you just need to get them in the freezer asap!! But, I wouldn’t recommend freezing cherries without pitting them. Cherries are very soft to begin with, and during freezing the fruit’s juices form ice crystals and expand, which effects the structure of the cherries and makes them even softer. I am afraid if you tried to pit them after they have defrosted you would end up with a lot of squished mushy cherries that would not be good for anything but juice.

  8. I have that cherry pitter (the plastic one that is shown in the pic), and it is okay, but it does not work as efficiently as my cast iron cherry pitter…made in the 1800’s in the USA. I was lucky enough to find one that was not used much. Rust free. By the way, that plastic pitter does not work well with small cherries. Does fine with medium to large cherries.

    I have a Montmorency cherry tree in my yard, and this is the first summer that it has truly produced a bounty of fruit. We don’t have to fight the birds this year…there is so much fruit, that the branches are bowing from the weight. It takes a few years before the tree matures enough to provide enough cherries for a pie, but it is so worth it. My husband and I are picking the cherries as they ripen. I already made a 9″ pie last weekend which I served warm with vanilla ice cream. YUM!
    I have a handwritten recipe for black walnut cherry cookies that is over 100 years old. It is my husband’s great grandma’s recipe, and my dad in law’s favorite childhood cookie. I have made them a few times already. They use sour cherries. Combined with the walnuts and mapeline, it is a delicious cookie.

    Thanks for the advice on freezing cherries. That is exactly how I have been doing it without knowing if that was the right method. Very easy way to store them in that manner. Enjoy the summer!

    1. I am jealous of your cherry harvest, and your cast iron cherry pitter! We struggled this year pitting cherries, they seemed very small compared to previous years.

    2. I am wondering if it’s possible to get the recipe? My folks have several black walnut trees and we have access to a tart cherry tree and always looking for ways to use both!

  9. Your comments on freezing came just in time. This year was a bumper crop for my dwarf tree. 3 gallons when pitted. I usually make pie filling that keeps well in the fridge; but with this amount I needed to know how to freeze half of them. By the way, when I make coffee cake, I put the filling in a blender so I don’t need so much filling.

  10. A hair pin, not a bobby pin, works well to pit the cherries. Press it in at the top of the cherry and pull the pit out on the end of the hair pin.

    1. @Teresa Lyons, I saw a post by a gal that lives in Door County. WI, where they grow a lot of cherries. Her tip for a CHEAP, GOOD PITTER, given to,her by a woman who worked at an orchard- a paper clip! Unfold the 2 halves, leaving the two winds with a curve on each. Push the curved end of one in where the stem originated, slip the loop under the pit, and pull/pop it out! Works WONDERFULLY!🤓😊. And when/if your hand gets tired from holding the paper clip, take a rubber band and wrap it around the clip and onto the end of a clothes pin. The wider angle of the wood makes it easier to hold onto, and not slippery because of the wood!