Of all the pies in the world, cherry pie is my favourite. A piece of cherry pie fresh out of the oven with a scoop of vanilla ice cream is pure bliss. I don’t even live in the U.S., but there is something “All-American” about cherry pie to me. It reminds me of the beginning of summer and fireworks and the 4th of July. It’s comforting and down-home and I absolutely LOVE a piece of sweet cherry pie on a warm summer night. Then again, I also love it in the middle of winter!
As much as cherry pie is totally a summer treat, the beauty of home-canning is that it’s possible to preserve all of the beautiful fruits of the season to enjoy later. And in the dead of winter, anything that reminds me that summer was not just a figment of my imagination is more than welcome around here!
Now, if you’re not comfortable canning, you can always freeze this cherry pie filling and then defrost and use later. But this recipe is seriously easy to can at home and I would always rather can than freeze if possible as I can guarantee my food will be shelf stable and won’t go bad if the power goes out (which happened last year and thawed out all my frozen cherries, which I then ended up having to can anyway to salvage them).
Also, I like to be able to just open a jar and use it right away without having to wait for it to thaw. And, well, let’s just say I like having the option of eating the pie filling straight out of the jar with a spoon! Don’t judge. Once you try it you’ll understand:)
And speaking of eating it with a spoon, there are other ways to enjoy this pie filling aside from in a traditional pie and right out of the jar. You could make a cherry crumble (which is super easy and requires no prep time for pie crust). Or you could eat it over cheesecake or ice cream or yogurt or oatmeal… So many possibilities!
However you choose to enjoy it, you really can’t go wrong by having some of this pie filling on hand. Having jars of any type of pie filling in your pantry is also a huge time saver if you’re having company or need to throw together a quick dessert for any reason. You can still say it’s made from scratch , but you will save tons of time when making your dessert if you already have the filling prepared and ready to go!
It also makes a great gift for Christmas or for a housewarming gift. You can add a pretty label to it and gift it on its own or you can mix up the dry ingredients needed for pie crust or for a crumble topping and attach a recipe with it to give as a “gift set.” You can’t go wrong either way!
So what do you need to can your own cherry pie filling?
One thing you will definitely need to can any pie filling successfully (and ensure the quality stands the test of time) is a product called Clear-Jel. Clear-Jel basically takes the place of cornstarch or flour in pie filling recipes; It is used to thicken the mixture so that it holds together and doesn’t make your pie runny and liquidy. But Clear-Jel is better suited for canning as it does not degrade over time. Flour and cornstarch can both end up clumping together and ruining the consistency and quality of your pie filling. I use Hoosier Hill Farm Clear-Jel and have always had perfect pie filling, even after a year or more of sitting in the pantry.
Since cherries are an acidic fruit (and since we are also adding some lemon juice), you can safely water-bath can cherry pie filling. Water-bath canning simply means you need to process your jars in a boiling hot water bath in order to kill any bacteria and ensure the jars seal. It’s really simple and you technically don’t even need a proper canner to do it. You could just use a regular large pot as long as you put something in the bottom of it to be used as a rack (even some rolled up kitchen towels will work).
If you do opt for a canner, I would recommend forgoing the water-bath canner and just getting a pressure canner. Then you have the option of water-bath or pressure canning instead of needing a different canner for each. I personally like the All-American pressure canner. But I also like the Presto pressure canner for a little bit cheaper option. The Presto is a good in-between as it is more functional than a water-bath canner but not a lot more expensive.
I have an old All-American as well as another older pressure canner that were handed down to me by family members. I’m not sure of the brand of the other one, but it’s very similar in style and functionality to the Presto and for water-bath canning it works great! I will be testing it out this year for pressure canning so we shall see!
Aside from maybe having a canner, I would definitely recommend some jar lifters. You can buy these for super cheap here on Amazon or at your local kitchen supply store. They are well worth the few dollars they cost and will go a long way toward protecting your hands from scolding water when lifting jars in and out of the canner or pot. They also provide really good grip so you’re not worried about the glass jars slipping and breaking.
I also use this special canning scoop and funnel to help me get my pie filling into my jars without making a total mess everywhere. My funnel is also a measuring tool so I don’t have to guess how much headspace I have in my jars. Headspace is important as it allows air to escape from the jars to create a tight seal. Each recipe calls for a different amount of headspace, so I like having the measurements right on my funnel so I don’t need to estimate or get a ruler out.
You will obviously need jars, lids and bands as well. I usually find most of my jars at thrift stores for super cheap when it’s not canning season and stash them away until I need them. The only downside to this is that you need to be careful to check for any nicks or hairline fractures in the glass.
I must have missed a fracture on one of my jars (or the glass was just was just really old and weak) because when I canned my cherry pie filling the other day one of my jars cracked and broke in my canner as soon as I put it in to process it!
There was cherry pie filling floating in the water and it was quite the mess until we could get it all scooped out! Luckily it was a clean break and there were no shards of glass or anything. I was able to rinse off the cherries and stick them in my dehydrator instead, so at least they didn’t go to waste!
You can reuse bands as well, but make sure you only use new lids. Once lids have been used to seal jars once, they are not safe to use again as they are not meant to seal more than once. I keep my old lids to store dry goods and non-food items in Mason jars, but when I’m canning at home I always use new lids.
As for the process of canning, it’s super simple and safe, but it is important to follow directions exactly (at least until you understand exactly how canning works and what is safe and what is not). Because you are preserving food without any freezing or refrigeration, it’s important to make sure you don’t cut corners or try to get too creative with recipes because it could affect the safety and stability of your end product.
As long as you stick to a trusted recipe and process your jars in boiling water for the time specified in the directions, you have nothing to worry about. Canning itself is very safe as long as you follow best practices according to up-to-date guidelines.
The recipe I use (and have included here) is adapted from my “canning bible” The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. I can’t stress enough how much I LOVE this book. I’ve tried at least a couple dozen recipes in here and they are all really good! And Ball pretty much sets the standard for safe home canning, so nothing to worry about when you’re following their recipes.
I did adapt this recipe slightly as I didn’t have enough cherries to make up the 10 lbs the book called for. But I kept all important ratios the same. I also added a little more cinnamon, but cinnamon is completely optional.
As for the cherries, to pit them I just use a toothpick that I insert where the stem meets the cherry and I run the toothpick along the outside of the pit to loosen it and then pop it out. You can also buy a cherry pitter like this and it will definitely speed things up, but the toothpick method has always worked just fine for me. Maybe one day I’ll invest the $10 or so a cherry pitter costs:)
We have a cherry tree in our backyard so we used about 5 lbs of our own cherries to make this pie filling. But you can use any cherries you like. Of course, if you use tart cherries, your pie filling will be more tart, and if you use sweet cherries it will be sweeter. But neither one is better or worse than the other. Just use whatever cherries you have. I guarantee it will be amazing either way, and you’ll be eating it with a spoon too before long;)
How to Can Homemade Cherry Pie Filling
- 5 lbs pitted cherries (you can use fresh or frozen and then thawed)
- 1 ¾ cup sugar
- ½ cup Clear-Jel
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 Tbsp lemon juice (only use the store-bought kind for canning as it is guaranteed to have the correct level of acidity)
- Drain cherries until you've collected 4 cups of juice (this is sometimes easier to do with cherries that have been frozen and then thawed). Set cherries and liquid aside.
- Prepare your jars and canner: I like to use quart-sized jars for my pie filling as they are the perfect portion for a pie or cruel, but you can also use pint jars. Wash jars and bands with hot, soapy water. Fill canner with water and place empty jars and bands inside to sterilize. Bring water to a simmer to heat jars and keep them warm while you're preparing pie filling. Place new lids in a shallow bowl or baking dish and fill with hot water to sterilize (I usually dump some hot water from the canner overtop).
- Whisk together 2 cups of the cherry liquid, sugar, Clear-Jel and cinnamon (if using). Boil over medium-high heat stirring constantly until mixture has thickened and begins to bubble.
- Add lemon juice and continue to boil for another minute, stirring constantly. Then add cherries and return to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly and being careful not to mash up cherries too much.
- Remove from heat, take jars out of canner one at a time and ladle pie filling into hot jars, leaving one inch headspace. Take a knife and slide it along the edge of the jar to release any trapped air bubbles. Then readjust headspace if necessary. Wipe the rim of the jar and then place the lid on top and secure with band (just until resistance is met: not too tight!)
- Place jars in canner and make sure they are completely covered with water. Cover with lid (ifusing a pressure canner just place lid on top without securing) and bring water to a boil and process for 35 minutes. Remove canner lid and let sit for 5 minutes afterward. Then remove jars and place on a towel on the counter to cool. Once cooled, store in a cool, dark area (like a pantry). Jars should last at least a year or longer if stored in the correct conditions.