Tuesday, July 20, 2010

How to pit a crap ton of cherries

Pitting a cherry
My good buddy Aynsavoy asked me last week about what to do with a whole bunch of cherries that had gotten past their prime, but weren't moldy or worth throwing away.

I suggested pitting them and making some sort of sauce for pork or duck, as "roast and puree" is pretty good advice for any stone fruit in that stage. Now, after a week away on vacation in Hawaii, I've come home to a fridge full of produce in a similar state, including a great big bowl of slightly wrinkled, wilty cherries. MMMM.

Cherries are delicious when eaten whole and fresh, and that's the state that I best like them in. I'm sure I'm not alone there. However, the secret motivation behind my usually eating cherries as themselves is that pitting them is a huge pain in the ass.

Unfortunately, when cherries are no longer perfect for eating, there's no other option if you want to use them in something.

I suppose you can pony up and buy a gadget to pit them, but then you'll have spent 30 bucks on something that will sit around and take up drawer space 10 months out of the year. Truth is that you can pit those delicious little bastards with all manner of implements you already have lying around.

Remember, always wear an apron or the shirt of someone you hate when you pit cherries, because by the end you'll look like Dexter on a bad day.

The general idea, when pitting cherries, is to relieve the cherry of it's pit without completely mangling the sweet, sweet flesh. The amount of mangling you can get away with depends on what you're making. If you plan to puree the cherries, or use in a sauce, then who cares- you might as well just slice them and dig the pit out with your fingernails. If you want to make a cherry tart, or pickles, or something where looks count, your technique may require more delicacy.

There are two main ways to go about this.

The first way is to choose some phallic-type object, and spear the cherry, pushing the pit out the other end.

 Pitting with a beater.

This way works well for keeping the cherry whole but depending on the cherry you may get some tearing, but it's pretty fast.  Do this with your cherry hand over a small bowl in the sink to catch the pits so that they don't go all over the place, or you can place the cherry over an empty bottle so that the pit falls inside.  Some people use a chopstick, but I like using the pointy end of a beater blade  (like the kind you stick in an electric hand mixer), as it has not only a better handhold but the metal bump halfway up, where the beater would normally go into the hand mixer, helps push the pit out. Any reasonably long pointy object will do, just nothing sharp enough to hurt yourself if things go awry.

The stick and bottle technique is as follows:
- curl your thumb and forefinger around the cherry,  holding tightly.
- rest that hand on the bottle, positioning the cherry over the open top.
- with your chopstick or other pointy implement,  spear the cherry through the top of the bottle.  If you do it right, the pit falls neatly out of the cherry and into the container.  Yay,  no mess!
- repeat, possibly humming Randy Newman's "theme from Scarface."

Go, Scarface, Go!

The second method is to wrangle the pit out with a curved bit of metal, like a hairpin or paper clip. The bonus to this being that you only leave an entry hole in the cherry, which looks nicer, but the process takes quite a bit longer.  Push your (CLEAN!) hairpin in the top with the bent end, open the hole a little, then use the end to free the stone and pop it out. It takes a few tries. Possibly many tries.

Pitting with a chopstick and bottleUsually people are better with one technique over the other. Stick and bottle works best for me.

Now, what to do with your pile of pitless cherries?

Well, since they aren't eating-pretty, they'll benefit most from heat. You could roast and puree for a fruit soup or sauce, or to make into sorbet. Maybe use in a sweet and savory rice dish. You could probably be okay doing a pie, or a tart, or press them into rising focaccia. Add to muffins. Or just freeze them until you decide, since you're going to be cooking them anyway.

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