Sweet Black Cherry Pie Filling

I used to think I despised cherries.

This was some high-heresy for a girl raised awfully close to ‘The Cherry Capital of the World’.*  Why I thought cherries were gross I can attribute to two reasons: A) I didn’t like the whole spit-the-pit thing.  I was a tidy child. B) The only way to eat cherries sans pits, as far as I knew, was maraschino cherries and I still maintain that those are disgusting.

*Nothing like some trivia to de-cobweb the old gray matter. Does anyone out there know which area I mean?

I realized the error of my ways long after moving out of state*.  I was at a friend’s house when she insisted I try a beautiful red cherry she had picked earlier that day.  I was blown away by the intense, tart, sweet flavor.  And I didn’t even mind spitting the pit. My devotion was deep and instant. But DANG they were expensive. On sale, loss-leader sale even, I couldn’t find pre-picked cherries for anything less than $2.99 per pound.  I lived much too far from any cherry orchards to make it cost-effective to drive to one to pick my own. Then we moved again.

*I have a  major food regret from my childhood. I wish I hadn’t been such an anti-cherry and anti-morel mushroom picky-pants.  I had both overflowing in my backyard free for the taking.

I am now fortunate enough to live in Amish country where the bulk-food buying and canning mindsets of my ‘Dutch’ neighbors combine to provide me with ample and affordable supplies of pre-picked fruits and vegetables at prices that would make grocery store managers reach for the antacids. This year, I pitted sixty pounds of sweet black cherries and I’m still canning my way through thirty pounds of pre-pitted sour cherries. The black sweet cherries rang in at $0.70 per pound and the pre-pitted sour cherries came in at a slightly pricier (but still bargain-basement price of) $1.26 per pound.  You already know about the Rum-Soaked Preserved Cherries and the Boozy Cherry Molasses, and I’ve been promising my Sweet Black Cherry Pie Filling recipe for an (indecently) awful long time.  How many of you are waiting out there languishing with a whipped ganache filled tart in hand just hanging on for a pie filling that doesn’t taste and look like glorified maraschino cherries and doesn’t plop out of a pull-tab can?  I am so sorry.  I blame my children.*

*Because I can. Yes, I can. A little laughter please? Can’t a girl get a little giggle for politico-culinary humour?

Why make your own instead of buying the cheap stuff? For the usual reasons; flavor and health. Store-bought canned pie filling can’t hold a candle to homemade in terms of flavor.  But just as compelling is the long list of nasty additives and artificial flavors present in the storebought stuff.  There are five -count ’em- FIVE ingredients in homemade Sweet Black Cherry Pie Filling, all of which are readily available and pronounceable.

Ah, Sweet Black Cherry Pie Filling. What can’t you do? Sure, you can make a good old-fashioned cherry pie with it, but you can also top cheesecakes with it, layer it with brownies and whipped cream in a mean trifle, pour it on top of softened cream cheese to serve with graham crackers or make a deadly no-bake Black Forest Truffle Tart.  You want some of this on your pantry shelves. Seriously.

For a printer-friendly, photo-free version of this recipe, click here!

Sweet Black Cherry Pie Filling: Printer Friendly Version

From The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving (see here for book details!)

Yield: about 8 pint (500 mL) or 4 quart (1 L) jars


  • 10 pounds frozen sweet black cherries, thawed in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup ClearJel (Or Thermaflo or Permaflo)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice

Position a colander over a large bowl. Pour partially thawed cherries into the colander, cover lightly with plastic wrap and leave on the counter top, stirring occasionally, until you have collected 7 cups of juice in the bowl.  Set aside the juice and the cherries.

Prepare the canner, jars and lids. For more information, see our basic canning how-to’s.

In a large stainless steel or enameled stockpot, whisk together the sugar, ClearJel and cinnamon. When it is evenly combined, whisk in 4 cups of the cherry juice*.  Place stockpot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Continue boiling until thickened. Whisk in the lemon juice and return to a boil, stirring constantly. Continue stirring and allow the mixture to boil hard for 1 minute. Add the reserved cherries all at once, stir in gently, and continue stirring constantly while returning to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat.

*You can freeze or can the remaining juice or turn it into Boozy Cherry Molasses. The basic instructions remain the same, just add half as much sugar (by volume) and go forth with the directions from there.

Scoop the hot pie filling into the hot jars allowing 1-inch of headspace to remain between the pie filling and the rim of the jar.  Remove air bubbles from the filling by inserting a long, flexible spatula or chopstick into the jars. Wipe the jar rims and position the lids in place.  Screw the rings onto the jars to fingertip tight.

Place jars in a canner, cover with hot tap water by at least 1-inch, cover, and place covered canner over high-heat to bring the water to a boil.  Once the water is boiling hard, you can begin timing; both pints and quarts must be processed for 35 minutes.  After 35 minutes, turn off the heat, remove the lid and let the jars remain in the water for an additional 5 minutes.  Remove to a cooling rack or towel lined counter and allow to cool, undisturbed, for 24 hours before removing rings, wiping jars clean and labeling. Processed and sealed pie filling can be stored in a cool, dark place for a year or so.


Before I leave you to whipping up your own batch of Sweet Black Cherry Pie Filling I want to let you in on a dirty little secret. I have a treat that I allow myself that I refer to as Mommy’s Little Helper. It’s the thing that stands between sanity and selling my children to the nearest traveling circus and it is as simple as it is delicious. Just dip a spoon into your resident jar of Nutella (you DO have one, don’t you?) and top with a dollop of Sweet Black Cherry Pie Filling.  Open mouth. Insert. Oh sure, you could  class it up a little and serve it on graham crackers or chocolate wafer cookies, but then it’s not so naughty -and therefore- not so much fun. Danger. It’s my middle name.


  1. Traci says

    Oh yum! I’m going to have to remember this for next year’s crop! Oh, and I was born and raised in the Cherry Capital…Traverse City, MI! And, I’m with you on the despising cherries bit as a kid…but my reason was that my great aunt had a farm and we had to pick every year. A hot sticky business that is.

  2. says

    It looks so so good! I just started preserving fruits this year – I raw packed (in syrup) 12 pints of blueberries and 6 pints of raspberries. Now I wish I had more! YUM! I am glad that Melissa directed me to your blog! :)

  3. Lori on Little Traverse Bay says

    Traverse City, Michigan, of course! By the way, cherry season came early this year (it ended July 19, which is when it began last year—thanks, “Farm and Orchard Time,” WTCM), so I’ll have to save this recipe for next year. 😉

  4. Christine says

    Two things-

    Thanks for the vicarious “Nigella” moment – laughed out loud!

    Are black cherries just simply black cherries? I haven’t noticed any particular varieties in my local produce grocers – there’s just “cherries”! If I see very dark red can I use those? They seem to be more in stores – my friend’s tree has bright red…
    Sorry for the cherry ignorance – I grew up in the prairies – and am cursed now to be allergic to raw cherries! (So pie filling would be extra valuable!) I can’t test anything til it’s cooked…


  5. plantfreek says

    I’m not trying to be picky but I’m wondering why there are so many air bubbles in your jar of pie filling in the picture above-? I’m a county and state fair judge of home canned foods etc. I’ve also been a champion canner myself for about 40 years&teach canning-preserving to folks interested in competing at state fair level. If any of your readers are interested in competing in their local or state fairs they can give me a hollar and I’ll be glad to give them some pointers on canning without bubbles. Air bubbles like this won’t disqualify an entry but it will keep the entry from winning anything above a red or blue ribbon. I just got done putting up 76 qts of blackberry pie filling. We grow all our own fruit including those pesky cherries-) I use Thermoflo that I purchase at local Dutch Pantry store. Love that stuff-get a nice clear end product from it. Well that’s all, just stopped by to say hi and tell you that little hint about nutella and anything is a great sanity saver! I love it on my finger, with my chocolate bar, spooned into a homemade meringue, you name it-I luv that stuff.

    • says

      I just read your nice comment from way back when on cherry pie filling. You mention Therma Flo and I have a question. My mom just brought me a 5 lb bag from PA. She told me to use it to make my strawberry and peach jam this summer. I can not find anything on how exactly to use it– and the two mentions I found about it are for pie filling, not jam. Can you enlighten me? Thanks so much.

  6. StBridgit says

    I’d love to hear how to avoid air bubbles plantfreek! I always get more air bubbles than I’d like in my pie fillings and it seems like no matter how much I try to avoid them, there they are. Any tips you have to share would be appreciated! Thanks!!

  7. Tink says

    I, too, would like to know how to avoid air bubbles. I just canned some apple pie filling today, and I was SO careful, but I still got air bubbles. Very frustrating.

  8. Stephen Bosley says

    I am trying to find black cherry pie filling that doesn’t cost so much. I have found I can’t find anything like that on store shelves in Florida. Does anyone know where I can buy black cherry pie filling that doesn’t cost so much? Thanks

  9. chandra says

    All the other comments are 2 years old, so I don’t know if you even check this site any more, but… 1. I saw the air bubbles in the photo and wondered why you picked that jar to photograph. 2. 10 POUNDS of frozen cherries? I just spent the afternoon picking and have 6 4-qt. baskets overflowing with sweet cherries, and 2 baskets of sour cherries. Does this recipe have a fresh cherry equivilant?

    • says

      I see all comments! I picked that jar because, well, I don’t know why. I just did! As for the frozen vs. fresh cherries issue… I did this recipe with frozen cherries because that’s what I had handy. I pit and freeze almost all of my cherries immediately. It is just how I do it. I’ll bet you could make the filling with fresh cherries, but I haven’t tested it that way.

  10. plantfreek says

    Don’t know why I haven’t stopped back by but this showed up on a recent search when I was putting up blackberry pie filling. Some have asked how to remove air bubbles. Remove air bubbles that are trapped between pieces of food by sliding a plastic spatula or a plastic canning knife u can buy for this purpose, between the food and the jar. Wipe the rim and threads of the jar with a damp cloth to remove any residue. Lift a lid from the hot water; center the hot lid on the jar allowing the sealing compound to come in contact with the jar rim. Apply the screw band, and screw onto the jar just until resistance is met. I’ve just finished putting us a case of BB pie filling. With lack of rain we’ve had this summer my blackberry crop has been reduced to probably half the usual 70+ gallons but we are thankful for what we have. Happy canning all-)

  11. Claudi Neff says

    I just my first 4 quarts into the canner……it smells heavenly and I did sneak a taste and can hardly wait to use it. There is enough to do some cherry brandy…….going to make more as I get cherries. THANK YOU!

  12. Jaime says

    I have a question about Clearjel. I can’t seem to find it anywhere, I’m in canada, I have no idea if that makes a difference. Could I just use corn starch to thicken it? Could you still preserve it with cornstarch? hmmm my frozen cherries are thawing in the fridge, 24hrs to figure this out!!

  13. Jaime says

    I just made it with cornstarch and although it will most likely seperate, it tastes AMAZING!!! thank you for this recipe, I will NEVER buy again!!

  14. Dana Krall says

    Question: I don’t have a canner, nor do I ever intend to learn how to can. Do you think I’d be able to freeze the excess that I don’t use right away? If so, would I eliminate the ClearGel? I’m assuming that’s a canning ingredient.

    Thanks, Dana

    • says

      Clearjel is actually a thickening agent- do not omit it. It’s good for freezing AND canning unlike cornstarch. As for freezing the pie filling, I hadn’t tested it but please let me know if you give it a go!


  1. […] Sweet Black Cherry Pie Filling: Why make your own instead of buying the cheap stuff? For the usual reasons; flavor and health. Store-bought canned pie filling can’t hold a candle to homemade in terms of flavor. But just as compelling is the long list of nasty additives and artificial flavors present in the storebought stuff. There are five -count ‘em- FIVE ingredients in homemade Sweet Black Cherry Pie Filling, all of which are readily available and pronounceable. Recipe from Foodie With Family. […]

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