How to Store Cherries So They'll Last as Long as Possible

So you've brought your haul of fresh cherries home from the market, now what? Here’s what you need to know in order to get the most out of cherry season.

fresh red cherries in a bowl
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One of the best parts of the summer is bringing home a beautiful haul of fresh, in-season cherries from the local farmers' market, grocery store, or even a roadside stand. But once you get these juicy gems home, the clock starts ticking. Even though they may look like berries, cherries are considered stone fruits and share a family with fruits like peaches, nectarines, apricots, and plums. And like most delicate fruits, cherries can go bad quickly if not stored properly. But don't worry, we've covered everything you need to know to properly store cherries, and get the most out of the season.

When Are Cherries in Season?

First things first, exactly when is cherry season? Cherry season entails a fleeting few months of the summer, with its full peak during the month of July. Depending on where you live, you'll likely start seeing them show up in markets around late May or early June, and they can stick around as late as mid-August. However, the very best time to bring home a load of this sweet summer fruit is in mid-July.

How to Store Cherries

When you first bring your cherries home, step one is to pick through the fruit and discard any moldy or bruised cherries. You'll also want to toss any that have busted open. Cherries should always be kept in the refrigerator, unless you plan to eat them immediately.

The best way to increase the longevity of fresh cherries is to make sure they stay as dry as possible. This means that washing fresh cherries before storing them can accelerate the spoiling process. Instead, wait to wash them with cold water until right before you eat them or use them in a recipe. If you have enough space in your fridge, transferring your cherry haul to a wide and flat storage container is best. Before adding the cherries, line the container with dry paper towels (and place more paper towels between layers if necessary) to absorb any water. Stored properly, fresh cherries should last at least one week in the fridge.

If you plan to freeze your cherries for later, start by washing and drying them after picking out the bad ones. Pit each cherry and spread them out, so that they are not touching, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Freeze the fruit for at least two hours, or until mostly solid, and then transfer to a freezer-safe bag. Freezing them on a sheet pan first is a vitally important step because it ensures that the cherries won't freeze together into a single, icy glob which — is what tends to happen if you just toss them all into a bag and then freeze.

How to Pit a Cherry

What you ultimately plan to do with your cherries can help inform the best way to store them. If you opt to take advantage of their seasonal availability, buying several bags at once with the intention of freezing them to use throughout the year, you will need to pit all of your cherries first. Of course, if you've ever been tasked with pitting cherries for a recipe, you might know how time-consuming and tedious it can be.

When it comes to pitting cherries, the right tool for the job is key. The easy answer for this task is a commercial cherry pitter. There are a few common styles of these devices, but the basis of most models consists of a holder for the individual cherry with a metal piston that mechanically pushes the pit through the cherry, leaving a hole in the fruit and dropping the pit.

Alternatively, you can use a paring knife to score the cherry all the way around and then dig out the pit. This is probably the least safe and most time-consuming option, but it works in a pinch. If you don't feel like risking a trip to the ER for stitches and you don't have a cherry pitter handy, there are a few other crafty ways to pit cherries using objects around the house. Again, they may not be quite as efficient as using a cherry pitter, but these methods will get the job done.

Are Cherry Pits Poisonous?

Whether by nibbling the fruit off of the pit or by pitting them manually, you do want to make sure to separate and safely discard cherry pits. The hard core of the fruit contains cyanide and can be poisonous. Swallowing one or two whole pits is fine as they will likely pass through your system intact, but crunching them open or splitting them can be very dangerous. Eating even just 3 or 4 crushed pits can be extremely harmful and possibly fatal.

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