A Few Tips On Freezing Cherries
Freezing cherries is such a simple task that it takes some effort to come up with more than a few tips on how to go about it. There are some things however that are good to know to avoid messing up a process which is nearly mistake proof. If anything goes wrong in the process it usually is something that was not done right between the time the cherries were harvested and the when it is time to put them in the freezer.
Leave The Stems On, For A While - Let's start with an assumption that you aren't going to freeze the cherries the moment hey are plucked from the tree. The cherries are going to be stored somewhere under some specific conditions during that time. The first step has to do with harvesting the cherries. Though not absolutely essential, it is a good idea to pick the cherries so that the stems remain attached. This isn't terribly important if you are going to be preparing them for freezing in a relatively short time, but if stems are removed incorrectly, the skin on the cherry may be broken and the cherry will not keep as well. You know what can happen to a bowl or bucket of cherries in storage if one or more cherries go bad. If you do want to harvest the cherries without stems, hold the stem and gently twist the cherry free from the stem rather than simply yanking it off. Otherwise leave the stems on and remove them later. If you remove them just before pitting them or freezing them you can yank to your hearts content. Cherries picked with stems attached usually have a little longer shelf life if you're not going to be putting them in the freezer within the first few days.
As your picking the cherries, look out for cherries with bruises or soft spots. Similarly, once you have a bucket full, handle it somewhat gently so cherries aren't bruised if the bucket is bumped or set down hard. A bruised cherry can over time have a negative influence on its nearest neighbors.
To Pit Or Not To Pit - The next question is whether or not to pit the cherries before freezing them. While you don't have to, cherries frozen with pits intact may pick up some of the nutty flavor of the pit over time. They will still be edible and good tasting, but not quite as good tasting as they could be. On the other hand, cherries with pits intact hold their shape better than do pitted cherries if that is important to you. If the cherries are only going to be frozen for a few days or weeks, leaving the pits in probably will not affect the taste.
If you have very many cherries to freeze, investing in a cherry pitter is an excellent idea. Your cherry pitter will last for years, and quickly pay for itself in terms of time and trouble saved. A good cherry pitter can often be found for under $20, but paying a bit more for added quality won't hurt either. After the first 20 or 30 cherries, you'll be glad you have one.
Freezing In Bags - Any variety of cherry can be frozen. The only difference will be is that for sweet cherries, the darker the color of the cherry, the sweeter it is. Sweet cherries can be frozen as is, with no need to add additional syrups or sweeteners. The best approach is to place cherries in a large pan, like a baking pan and freeze them that way before putting them into a container of freezer bag. That way they won't all stick together in one massive glob when you take them out of the freezer. That's important if you’re going to make a fancy desert featuring individual cherries. If you're just going to make smoothies it's not important. Bags are better than plastic containers as cherries freeze and keep best when most of the air is forced out of the bag. As a rule of thumb, cherries will keep for about a year in the freezer before their flavor starts to deteriorate.
Freezing Cherries In Containers - If you do choose to freeze cherries in plastic containers you obviously can't squeeze the air out. The beat approach here is to freeze them in a sugar-water syrup, about a cup of sugar for every 4 to 5 cups of cherries. Adding a quarter teaspoon of ascorbic acid to the 4 cups of cherries will help preserve their color while frozen. When preparing cherries this way you don't freeze them ahead of time as you would if placing them in a bag. The sugar-water syrup is heated, usually to boiling, to dissolve the sugar, and poured over the cherries which have been placed in the containers. Remember to leave a little room to allow the water to expand before placing everything in the freezer.
Summary: Method number 1 then is, pick, stem, pit, freeze, place in bags, and place in freezer. Method 2 is pick, stem, pit, place in containers, add syrup, and place in freezer.