As the cherries have been ripening over the past few weeks, we've periodically picked a big bowl full from the old sour cherry tree in our pasture. Sour cherries need to be pitted right away and placed in lemon juice to keep them from turning brown. We've found it best to go ahead and freeze the cherries once they're cleaned and pitted, placing them in gallon-sized freezer bags and tucking them away into our upright freezer. This also makes the chore easier by breaking it down into multiple segments; we don't have to worry about canning the cherries until later. Yesterday, as I was going through the freezer, I realized we had squirreled away 4 gallon-sized bags of cherries. Since we're harvesting more vegetables and need freezer space, it was time to take all the frozen cherries out and make cherry pie filling.
The beautiful, enormous jars of sour cherry pie filling are one of my favorite pantry foods. Cherry pie filling comes in handy when we need to make a quick dessert for impromptu guests. We can simply empty the jar of filling into a glass bowl, heat it in the microwave, and then put scoopfuls of the warmed pie filling over vanilla ice cream. Another alternative is to fill custard cups halfway with the pie filling, add an Oatmeal-Walnut-Brown Sugar Crumb Topping, and bake at 400 degrees F for about 20 minutes (until the pie filling is bubbling at the sides and the topping is browned slightly); for an even more delightful dessert, add a scoop of ice cream or whipped cream to the top.
The best recipes for canned pie filling use Clear Jel. I learned all about Clear Jel from Cathy, my sweet and knowledgeable sister who also enjoys gardening and canning. Clear Jel doesn't turn cloudy in the jar like cornstarch would when canning. For more information about Clear Jel as well as the recipes we've been using to make canned pie filling, see this publication from Washington State University Chelan/Douglas/Okanogan County Extension.