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Mar 24, 2010 06:36 AM

Sour cherries - recommendations for a pitter? [Moved from Home Cooking]

Hi all,

I planted a North Star sour cherry tree four years ago. Last year it gave me 2-3 quarts of cherries, so I have high hopes for a big harvest this summer.

I have a couple of hand-held cherry/olive pitters, but they didn't work very well with the relatively small sour cherries. I tried a few other pitting methods that I'd read about - like using a bobby pin - but ended up crushing the cherries and losing too much juice.

There are a few threads about the automatic or bulk-type pitters in the archives, but I didn't see that sour cherries were specifically mentioned. Does anyone have a pitter that works well for them on these little cherries?

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  1. I have a pitter that I don't use-it beats them up too much and it's just slow. I've done the paperclip method (which was suggested by the owners of the sour cherry orchard). And what I come back to each summer is just my paring knife. Small cut, pop out the pit, done. It doesn't bruise the flesh--and those light colored cherries really show bruises!

    Two summers ago I pitted 60 pounds in a day with a friend, and we both ended up with our knives. I am curious to see what responses you get.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Vetter

      Having pitted up to fifty pounds of homegrown cherries at a time, I have formed the opinion that cherry pitters don't work as well as a serrated paring knife. Hold the cherry in one hand and cut into it by running the knife against the seed then pop out the seed. Hold over a big bowl and wear something you can throw away afterward. Put on some music. You can work amazingly fast.

      For the sour cherry question, the classic is Montmorency. No other has such a flavor. Lately Michigan growers have been bringing Balaton (a Hungarian variety) cherries to Chicago farmers' markets---not quite as tart as Montmorency, easy to stem, large very bright attractive red fruit. Still, if I were to plant now, I would stay with Montmorency.

    2. I always pit sour cherries by hand. It's very easy and has better results for me than using a pitter, since the fruit is so soft. Here's what I do: over a saucepan, take off the cherry stem, hold the other end of the cherry and squeeze. The pit should pop right out into the pan along with some juice. Then put the pitted cherry into your bowl and repeat. When you're done, simmer the pits in the juice to get all the pulp off, and to add some of their almondy flavor to the juice. Then you can add some sugar if you like, put the cherries into the juice, and use or freeze. Alternatively you can use the cherries separately for applications like Black Forest Cake, etc.

      Now I have a question for you! I want to plant a sour cherry tree too. Can you tell me where you got your tree, what the taste of Northstar is, how easily (or not) it grew, and what zone you're in? Thanks!

      9 Replies
      1. re: visciole

        visiole - I have two good mail order (or internet )sources for fruit trees. One is and the other is

        Miller's doesn't have Northstar, but they do have the ever-popular Montmorency. That variety is recommended for zones 5-8. Starks has the Northstar and says it is good for zones 4 to 8.

        We have several sour cherry trees (lucky us!) and are in zone 6A. They grow quite easily, however we haven't pinned down their exact pedigree. They reseeded themselves from a long gone mother tree. Some years we get so many cherries I couldn't imagine pitting them without the aid of a pitter. (Our record so far is 240 cups pitted and frozen.


        To the OP, we have an antique cherry "stoner" (circa 1890) made by the Enterprise Manufacturing Company which used to be in Philadelphia. This baby clamps to the counter and has a disk that sort of slices through the cherry half way as you crank the handle and sends the cherries in one direction and the pits in another. It doesn't preserve the cherries' shape well for pies, but it is excellent for making preserves as you don't then need to chop them up. I believe they still make these.

        Our neighbor has a Leifhart "Cherrymat Cherry Stoner with container." This is the type that utilizes a plunger to remove the pit. We've borrowed this device many times and it does an excellent job. AND, added bonus, the pits go into the container, greatly reducing the amount of juice that splatters aroung the kitchen. Looks like it's available on Amazon for about $26.00 Come to think about it, I could use one too...

        1. re: clamscasino

          Yes, I think mine is a Leifhart too. (I will double check.) I've been happy with it.

          Occasionally a stoned cherry will get into the finished ones so you need to warn your pie eaters. (Or better yet, have them sign a waiver of legal liability for dental work!)

          1. re: clamscasino

            Thanks for the info. I'll take a look at those places.

            I guess I never have enough cherries to make it seem easier to get a pitter, but I can understand if you're putting up 80 quarts you'd need one! Now I have cherry envy ;)

          2. re: visciole

            OP may want to post the question on the Cookware Board as well.

            Interesting about the pits contributing an almond flavor. I knew that stone fruits and almonds are all in the Prunus genus and that apricot pits are used in amaretti, but didn't realize that cherry pits have the same flavor. I get my dried apricots from in California and just got the last of their limited supply of slip-pit apricots. The pits are not removed till after drying, giving the fruit a bit of an oaky almond finish. The "pit-in" version had even more amaretto flavor but has disappeared from their site. I hope they bring them back. Presumably the "slippies" will be available again late summer/fall, at the end of the season.

            1. re: visciole

              I bought the tree in May 2006, via Stark Bros mail order. To be honest, I wasn't happy with many of the plants I bought from them - the peach tree came with a resident borer, the apricot was DOA and the miniature peach didn't last throught the winter in our garage (it's buddy, a minature nectarine, did survive and is still going). The cherry tree and the blueberry bushes were the big winners, for me.

              I chose North Star b/c it's a natural dwarf. It was probably just a year or two old whenit arrived as a stick; now it's a nice rounded shape and about 6 ft high. It has grown easily here in our Zone 6, sandy loam, ph 4.5 (ugh! no wonder the blueberries are loving it ). It doesn't get sun all day - maybe 8 hours at the peak of the season, since we have a row of maple trees that give late afternoon shade. I don't really prune it, except to remove crossing branches or damaged stems after the winter. All in all I think the tree is doing pretty well considering the challenges of its site.

              The poor tree also happened to arrive just before a week of massive rainfall. I had to heel it in for 10 days before things dried out enough that I could plant it. The following spring (tree's 2nd year in my garden) I let it blossom but then took off the handful of flowers before they set fruit. In the tree's 3rd year, I got about 2 cups of cherries - which cooked down to just a few tablespoons! Last year, the 2-3 quarts gave me a few cups of cooked cherries. This year I have great hope of making a pie.

              The cherries have a great flavor, they are sour but you can eat them fresh. Cooked down with a little sugar they are wonderful, especially over some Greek yogurt - I kept sneaking into the fridge with a spoon for just one more taste. I haven't tasted fresh Montmorency cherries so i can't really compare them, sorry.

              1. re: visciole

                P.S> LOVE the idea of simmering the pits to extract the pulp. I did try squeezing out the pits but too much pulp stuck to them - will definately try simmering this year!

                1. re: gimlis1mum

                  Yes, the people with the cherry orchard where we yearly buy our cherries taught us this method. The resulting juice really tastes amazing, and you don't waste any of the juice or pulp this way.

                  Thanks for the info about your tree. I am considering one for next year....

                2. re: visciole

                  visciole, thanks again for the suggestion to simmer the pits in the juice. The cherries are just starting to ripen and I tried that trick with the first couple of quarts that I's great! All the pulp comes off and none of the juice is wasted. I made a compote with that first picking but plan to freeze the second picking for later (got 2 quarts today - woohoo!).

                  The tree is still growing pretty easily for me. I gave it a spritz all with some all-seasons horticultural oil in the late spring (did the same thing last year) but no other sprays. I noticed that some of the cherries have a black spot on the exterior. The ones with the spot also have a little black fungus-looking stuff around the pit on the interior but since they have the exterior spot they are easy to identify. I also pick the tree clean of fruit so I think there is less spottage than last year, if that makes sense.

                  1. re: gimlis1mum

                    Great, I am very glad the suggestion is working well for you.... and guess what, we're going cherry picking tomorrow at the exact place that taught us that method! Gonna get our year's worth of sour cherries, mm-mm. I still would like a tree; maybe next year. Glad yours is growing so well. Happy cherry-cooking!

                3. I have a pitter that I like -- not a handheld -- that has worked well with sour cherries. (The only kind I cook with.)

                  It's in my storage area but I will be there in the next couple days and will check it for you then.

                  1. I have a Westmark Kernomat which I like for sweet cherries. It has a plunger design that uses some force to pop the pits out. I like it when I have to do a lot of firm cherries. Usually the sour cherries I get are so much softer than sweets that I find I can pit them just by squeezing the pits out. If your sour ones are firm, the kernomat might work for you. One caveat: I find it spatters a bit, so I put the whole rig and receptacle in a large box top to contain the spray.

                    1. Use a large-size paperclip, it really is the quickest and easiest method I have encountered.

                      I can do a bucket or so and not be bothered by anything except the juice stains. It would be a bit tiring for more than a bucketful, though. You've reminded me I have several de-pitted kilos waiting in the freezer for me, from last season - oops...