After just one bite of a pie with a homemade cherry pie filling, you know if you’re eating the real deal. That deep, rich cherry taste and juiciness of a from-scratch filling outshine any store-bought canned filling.
The only work behind a homemade filling is getting your hands on fresh tart cherries and pitting them. Once you learn how to buy cherries and prep them, making enough filling for a 9-inch pie takes mere minutes. Simply put everything in a pot, let it cook briefly, and you’re ready to bake.
Ingredients for Homemade Cherry Pie Filling
- Fresh tart cherries: Fresh cherries vastly improve a pie’s flavor. The cherries should be tart-sour pie cherries with a high acidity and a light tanginess. The varieties you buy to snack on will produce a far sweeter filling.
- Sugar: When you use fresh cherries instead of presweetened canned ones, you can control the amount of sugar in the filling.
- Cornstarch: As a thickener, cornstarch has a neutral flavor and a smooth texture, as long as it’s fully cooked.
Step 1: Combine the ingredients
In a large saucepan, combine the sugar, cornstarch and salt.
Add the cherries, water and lemon juice. Stir to evenly mix.
Step 2: Cook to thicken
Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, for about two minutes, until the filling has thickened.
Step 3: Color as needed
Remove the saucepan from heat. Stir in the food coloring if you’d like a brighter filling.
Editor’s Tip: A 21-ounce can of commercial pie filling is equal to 2 cups, a helpful conversion if you want to use this fresh cherry pie filling in recipes.
Cherry Pie Filling Variations
- Cherry-lemon filling: Add the zest from half of a large lemon for a pop of flavor. If you’re rolling your own homemade pie crust or using the filling in a fruit cobbler, the lemon’s remaining zest can be mixed into the dough.
- Spiced cherry filling: Cherries pair naturally with many spices and flavorings. Stir 1 teaspoon almond extract or vanilla into the cooked filling, or sprinkle in up to 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, ginger or nutmeg. Fresh herbs like mint, basil, rosemary or thyme also make a surprising addition. Start with just a tablespoon or two once you remove the pot from the heat.
- Boozy cherry filling: Pour a couple tablespoons of brandy, bourbon or kirsch (a clear brandy distilled from fermented cherries) into the filling.
- Fruitful cherry filling: Replace some of the cherries with another fruit, or add a second fruit if you’re making a larger or deep-dish pie. Tart additions include cranberries and raspberries, and sweet ones include peaches and apples.
Can you store cherry pie filling?
Let your homemade cherry pie filling cool completely, then store it in an airtight container in the fridge for three to five days. Here are some great cherry pie recipes to use it up in! This recipe was not created for canning, so we recommend making an approved canned cherry pie filling recipe for that purpose.
Cherry Pie Filling Tips
How do you pit cherries?
Learning how to pit cherries can be tricky, but the easiest way is by using a cherry pitter. This gadget grips each cherry while a small rod pierces the fruit and pushes the pit right out, leaving the cherry intact. Without a pitter, you can use a chopstick, a straw, a piping tip or a paring knife to push the pit through the cherry.
Can you use frozen cherries to make cherry pie filling?
Yes, you can use frozen cherries to make cherry pie filling. They typically don’t need to be thawed beforehand since they’ll warm up during the cooking process. However, frozen cherries have more moisture than fresh cherries, so you may need to adjust the amount of cornstarch to compensate for the extra liquid. Either way, we generally use sour or tart cherry varieties when making pie filling because they create a pleasantly balanced, but tangy flavor. However, any type of cherry can be used, some may just result in a sweeter flavor profile.