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cherry-pitting purist

22 August 2009


neither northwest drizzle nor beating sun (and this year, there was a blissful dose of that) deter my Sunday morning jaunts to the Port of Everett Marina farmers’ market, right on Puget Sound. there, only a taut yellow tape separates me from the farmers and their fresh, organic produce. i stand poised, like a runner on the blocks, ready to burst forth at 11:00 a.m. sharp.

in early July, recyclable bag snugly tucked under my arm, i sprinted first to the Tonnemaker Family Orchard’s market tent. are the pie cherries in yet, i asked breathlessly. no, not yet. maybe in a few weeks, said the girl keeping watch over the Bings. poop.

i stopped by the Tonnemaker’s booth each week, standing on tip toes and craning my neck to ensure i hadn’t missed the mother lode. nothing. until one Sunday my eyes fell upon a bin piled high with tart Montgomery cherries. yes! i purchased five pounds and headed for home, where i immediately dug out the pitter. setting up an assembly line, with my 87-year-old mother manning the stem-removal station, i began to run the cherries through the pitting process. about 15 minutes into it, i remembered how totally tedious pitting cherries is. just like, as a child, having to stand perfectly still while my mom pinned the hem of a cute, little dress (ack) she was making for me. feeling all prickly, as i took deep breaths and willed myself not to budge.

ever the scout, i actually love doing things from scratch. and with a little self reminder of the ultimate prize, all five pounds of cherries were soon pitless. mom went for a much-deserved nap, while i began to cook the filling. it’s wonderful in a pie, which i made right away. or on top of a dense New York cheesecake (recipe below), which i made about two weeks later (having frozen the filling and then thawed). did i say the filling was so great that we got another five pounds of Montgomerys the following week and did it again??

combining the best of two recipes (one from Food Network /Peter Sterk and one from resulted in a delightfully tangy mixture that yields enough to make two pies.

Cherry Pie Filling


5 pounds cherries (about 8 cups)
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons. fresh orange juice
1 tablespoons finely grated orange zest (felt like doubling here was too much; you decide)
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 – 2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt


  1. place cherries in a large saucepan with lemon juice and orange juice, cover and heat, until cherries lose a lot of their juice.
  2. in the meantime, mix the cornstarch, sugar, cinnamon and salt in small bowl.
  3. remove the cherries from the heat and add the sugar mixture; mix well.
  4. then add the vanilla and orange zest; mix well.
  5. cook the mixture on low heat, stirring frequently, until thickened.
  6. remove from heat and let cool.

you can add a little water if too thick or more corn starch if not thick enough. my experience is add corn starch with caution, or you may end up with something too gelatinous. double ack.

cheesecake was my dad’s favorite dessert; he’d order it at seemingly every restaurant we went to. this recipe is awesome; it’s been a consistent favorite with family and friends. i think dad would have been an immediate fan, too.

the last piece

New York Cheesecake

from Gourmet, by way of
my modifications included here:

butter a 9″ x 3″ round cake pan (i use a 4″, because i never could find a 3″) and preheat oven to 350F.


5 (8oz) packages organic cream cheese, softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
3 tablespoons unbleached organic flour
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
finely grated zest of 1 orange
5 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

  1. beat together cream cheese, sugar, flour, and zests with an electric mixer until smooth.
  2. add eggs and yolks 1 at at time, beating on low speed until each ingredient is incorporated; scrape down bowl between each addition.
  3. add the vanilla and beat until incorporated.
  4. pour mixture into buttered pan.
  5. place round pan in a large roasting pan and transfer to oven rack. carefully pour enough warm water in the roasting pan to come 2/3 up the side of the round pan.
  6. bake until firm, about an hour. add more water to the roasting pan as needed. middle should be ever-so-slightly wobbly when the round pan is shaken.
  7. remove from water bath, and cool completely on rack.
  8. place in fridge, loosely covered with plastic wrap. chill for at least six hours.
  9. remove from the fridge, and run a knife around edge of cheesecake, as needed. then invert onto a plate.

bring to room temp before serving. top with cherry filling. or fresh raspberries. or drizzle with hot fudge. i’ve also created a variation with more lemon zest and culinary lavender that i get from Pelindaba Lavender on San Juan Island.


Post a comment
  1. Carla #
    August 22, 2009

    Awesome! Bon apetit

  2. August 23, 2009

    That looks deeeeelicious! The first time I made anything cherry, I pitted 2 lb by hand, to the detriment of my clothes, my kitchen and the poor mangled cherries. Needless to say, I invested in a cherry pitter! 🙂

  3. Lourdes #
    August 23, 2009

    Yum!!!! But wait – where the Hell is my pie???

    • August 24, 2009

      uh-oh. i received the exact same comment from my friend Jamie, when i described the banana-creme doughnut. i’m compiling a list of i-owe-yous. i’ll be sure to add the pie to it, with your name right beside it!

  4. August 23, 2009

    a worthwhile investment, to be sure! i’ve been looking at your coffee cake recipes, and they’re truly inspirational. hope to make one next weekend. thanks so much for stopping by!

  5. Elizabeth #
    August 24, 2009

    This is the second year that our lovely neighbor invited us to pick cherries from her prolific backyard tree. We’ve got several gallons, pitted and frozen. But they’re all slated to become cherry jam… I’m seriously thinking of hastening the demise of the stupid silver maple in my backyard so I can put in a cherry tree.

  6. Your sister! #
    August 24, 2009

    Well, big sister!! This is awesome!! However Daddy also loved Pecan Pie and Strawberry/Rhubard so you better get cooking there!!! I might even break down and have to do some baking to make John this cheesecake, because if you didn’t know it’s MY favorite!!!!
    Love you!!!

  7. August 24, 2009

    brilliant! i definitely support that decision (no offense, maple, but it’s kind of a no-brainer).

  8. Karen #
    August 29, 2009

    All across Mercer Island, growing literally like weeds, are native blackberries. They are ripe now, and totally worth picking. Stop along the roadside or walk along the trails in Luther Burbank Park. Bring plenty of buckets 🙂

    Then, make this pie:

    Mix and let stand for 15 minutes:
    2-3 pints of blackberries (you can alternatively mix 1 pt of blackberries with 6 oz. raspberries and 6 oz. blueberries, or any combination)
    1/2 cup sugar
    2 rounded tablespoons of flour

    Fill a graham cracker crust with the above and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Let cool and then top.

    For the topping, whip up
    1 cup heavy cream
    1/2 cup sour cream
    powdered sugar, to taste

    I don’t know what you do with leftovers because I have never had any.

    • August 29, 2009

      thanks for visiting and for sharing the location of a great berry stash and recipe. i’ll need to dig out my buckets!

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