Perfect Cherries: Tips for Picking, Pitting and Preparing


Cherry Salsa with Balsamic Vinegar and Basil

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Sweet fresh cherries are one of the major highlights of summertime. A bowl of these beauties with their perfectly joined stems can’t be beat, but it’s almost more fun to get creative in the kitchen with this diminutive stone fruit.

Explore the different varieties of cherries available during their short summer season and see how many cherry-themed meals you can sneak in.

Types and Temperaments

  • Bing cherries are the most common variety available. These cherries are deep red in color and perfectly sweet.

  • Rainier cherries are golden yellow with a swath of pink or red blush. These cherries are particularly large and sweet with more of a floral flavor then the rest of the bunch.

  • Skeena cherries appear later in the season than Bing and Rainier. These dark red cherries are firm in texture and juicy.

  • Staccato cherries are a deep purply red and another later season variety. These cherries are large and super-sweet.

  • Sweetheart cherries are late bloomers and arrive several weeks after the rest of the group. These cherries are large and bright red with a more subdued sweetness.

Mixed Lettuces with Spiced Cherry Vinaigrette

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Pick the Best


  • Cherries should be uniformly and richly colored with shiny skin.

  • Some cherry types will have uneven coloring (remember the Rainier blush?), but this is part of their charm.

  • Avoid cherries with brown patches or bruising, which could indicate overripe fruit.


  • Cherries should be plump and firm.

  • If cherries are wrinkled or shrunken, they may be drying out and past their prime.

Anything else?

  • Cherry stems should be green, which indicates freshness.

  • If cherry stems are missing, be sure to check the area of the cherry where the stem attaches and avoid any cherries that have developed mold.

Fresh Cherry Compote with Orange-Scented Mascarpone

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Store and Savor


  • Store unwashed cherries in the refrigerator.

  • Cherries can last up to a week after purchase, but eat them as soon as possible for the best results.

  • Cherries can be washed in larger batches if needed, but it’s best to just wash the amount you plan to use.

  • To freeze cherries, allow washed and stemmed cherries to dry completely. Next pit the cherries and in resealable plastic freezer bags.

Pit-y Party

  • Pitting cherries can be a pain, but don’t let that deter you from using this sweet fruit in cooking and baking.

  • If you need the whole cherry (and don’t have a cherry pitter), toothpicks and lobster picks are great for gently digging into the cherry at the stem end and scooping out the pit. Use a chopstick or a straw to shove the pit through the cherry in the same manner as a cherry pitter.

  • If you don’t need the whole cherry, simply cut around the stemmed cherry with a paring knife and twist the fruit off the pit as you would with larger stone fruits like peaches and plums.

  • Don’t be ashamed to wear a dish towel as a bib when you’re pitting cherries as the juice can splatter and stain.

  • Some baked preparations, like the fresh baked custard clafouti, traditionally call for baking whole cherries (pits and all) into the batter. If you choose this route, just be sure to warn your guests of the hidden pits.


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How do you celebrate cherry season? Share your pitting techniques and serving suggestions in the comments section below.

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