This is the easiest and BEST homemade cherry pie filling recipe you will ever make! It’s all-natural, incredibly simple, and takes less than 10 minutes to make. The best part? You can use frozen or fresh cherries. I get a lot of requests for this recipe and once you’ve made it, you will never buy canned cherry pie filling again. Tart sour cherries, sweet cane sugar, and a couple of secret ingredients make this an intensely flavored all-natural cherry pie filling you will make again and again.
What Secret Ingredients Make the Best Homemade Cherry Pie Filling
If you want to make a cherry pie filling that bursts with tons of pure cherry flavor, this recipe is the one! My tips for making the best-tasting cherry pie filling is to use fresh or frozen sour cherries, plus a little freshly squeezed fresh lime juice, a few drops of pure almond extract, and a pinch of cinnamon which somehow creates a whole new level of very-cherry flavor. This sweet, sour cherry pie filling can be used to top cherry cheese pie, your favorite cheesecakes, or a tart and sweet cherry crumb-crunch pie, or use it to fill my favorite southern fried cherry pies.
Can I Use Fresh or Frozen Sour Cherries to Make Cherry Pie Filling?
Yes, you can use fresh or frozen, pitted, sour cherries for this simple pie filling recipe. Just be sure they don’t have any added sugar. Not everyone has access to fresh sour cherries when they’re in season, and for this recipe (as you can see by the photos), frozen unsweetened store-brand sour cherries make excellent cherry pie filling. In fact, it’s easier to use frozen cherries for this pie filling recipe because they’re already washed and pitted.
However, I’ve also made this cherry pie filling using fresh IGP sour cherries from Marostica, Italy (delicious). This city is famous for its high-quality cherries and lifesize game of chess (that uses people as the game pieces). This plays out every few years on the piazza in front of Marostica’s medieval castle (pictured below). The flavor of these cherries is delicious, but I’ll use a bag of frozen store-brand cherries any day to make this pie filling. Use whatever you have access to.
Homemade Sour Cherry Pie Filling Ingredients
With just a few ingredients you can have homemade cherry pie filling that’s so much better than store-bought and you know exactly what’s in it.
- 24 ounces pitted tart sour cherries, fresh or frozen (673g)
- 1 cup sugar (200g)
- 1 teaspoon lime juice, freshly squeezed (6g)
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch (20g)
- 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract (approximately 6 drops)
- 1 pinch of cinnamon, or more to taste
How to Make Sour Cherry Pie Filling — From Scratch
This recipe is my favorite of the two cherry pie filling recipes, hence the name “numero uno” (or number one). Both pie filling recipes are delicious and easy to make, but if I had to choose one to make forever, it’s going to be this all-sour cherry filling. The best cooking technique to use for this pie filling is to only cook the cherries for a few short minutes ensuring the cherries maintain a very intense “cherry” flavor.
- Cook the cherries. Add cherries, lime juice, sugar, and a pinch of cinnamon to a saucepot and cook over medium heat just until sugar is dissolved and cherries release some of their juice (about 2 minutes). Remove from heat and pour off approximately 1/4 to 1/2 cup cherry juice mixture and place it into a small heat-proof bowl.
- Prepare the cornstarch slurry. Add cornstarch to the small bowl with the cherry juice mixture and use a fork to mash and stir the cornstarch until no visible lumps or flecks of cornstarch remain, set aside.
- Combine the cherry mixture and cornstarch slurry. Next, return the pot with cherries back to medium-high heat. Just BEFORE the cherry mixture starts to boil, add the slurry whisking constantly as the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the mixture is thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat, add almond extract, and let the mixture cool.
- Cool and use or store the filling. Place the hot filling into glass canning jars and let cool to room temperature before using. Once it’s room temperature, you can put a lid on it and place it into the refrigerator or freezer. Enjoy!
Sour Cherries From Around the World
Growing up in Arkansas, we had a single sour cherry tree in our back yard which in contrast to most varieties of sweet cherry, tart cherries don’t require cross-pollination to bear fruit. Even if you don’t have a cherry tree in your backyard, you can find sour cherries at farmer’s markets and in grocery stores across the country when they’re in season (or in the frozen fruit section).
In Italy, we have access to the geographically protected (IGP) tart Italian Marostica cherries. In China, we had the special Wenchuan area highland cherry which has been given its own “preserved agricultural geography” status by the government (similar to the honor given to the Italian Marostica cherries by the Italian government).
A Tale of Two Cherry Pie Fillings — Should You Use Sour Cherries Only or a Combo of Dark Sweet Cherries and Sour Cherries?
If you’ve seen my Numero Uno Sour Cherry Pie Filling post, then you probably know I grew up with a cherry tree and other fruit-bearing trees in our backyard. I love all things cherry. In the photos above, you’ll see my two standard homemade cherry pie fillings.
For me, it makes sense to have two different cherry pie filling recipes because sometimes a sweeter (less tart) cherry flavor works best in a recipe, while other times a really punchy sour cherry flavor is exactly what’s needed. Below, you’ll find a few of our favorite ways to use either of these delicious homemade cherry pie fillings.
- Sweet Cherry Crumb-Crunch Pie w/Scratch Made Cherry Pie Filling & Streusel topping
- Double Layer Devil’s Food Cake (w/Granny’s Hand-Whipped 7-Minute Frosting)
- Crispy + Flaky Southern Fried Cherry Pies (Best Ever)
- Easy Classic Cheesecake w/Biscoff Cookie Crust (+Mini’s)
- Mom’s Best Ever Southern Cherry Cobbler Recipe (a family favorite)
- Tart cherries are classified into two main groups, amarelle or morello and the amarelle cherry variety has only red skin, but not red flesh