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Our Stella cherry tree is loaded this year. We purchased it as a seedling in 2003, on sale at a grocery store for about $5. Most years, we get some cherries, but this is a bumper crop, even the birds can't keep up. The heat wave of last weekend has quickly ripened the fruit and they need to be picked now!
We keep the tree well trimmed back as we planted it too close to our neighbor's fence. Instead of trimming back some of the branches earlier in the season, we waited until harvest and removed the branches now. This makes picking these cherries very easy. After removing the desired branches, we picked the rest of the cherries the old fashioned way, with a ladder.
After picking the cherries, they need to be refrigerated, processed or eaten right away. Don't plan to leave them for a day or two as you may lose a lot of your harvest. I washed them in the sink, picking out any leaves, stems or bad cherries. No matter how carefully you pick, there are always a few that make it through. Cherries also bruise easily so a perfect looking fruit can be brown in the matter of hours. For this reason, it is best not to harvest fallen cherries, unless you are eating or cooking them immediately.
After they were washed, I bagged up some to give to my friends and neighbors. I placed these in the fridge until it was time to give them away, as cherries can mold quickly if the conditions are right. It depends a lot on how ripe they are. The rest of cherries were pitted by using a thick plastic straw. I placed them on a metal cookie sheet sprayed with cooking oil, to keep them from sticking. Parchment paper or cling wrap would work as well.
After the cherries had frozen, I placed them in a freezer bag marked with the date. I got about 4 bags this size and there is still more picking to do. Be sure to use that straw to suck out the extra air, if you are not using a FoodSaver.
The Stella cherry is great for eating but is also good for cooking, especially if you use the tart cherries before they fully ripen. They taste good as soon as they are a bright red, but still have a pale interior. As the cherry ripens, it gets sweeter and deepens in color until it is as dark as a Bing. When freezing, I just use a mix of whatever I get at that time, but I could divide them for specific uses if I wanted to take the extra time.
I can use the frozen cherries for smoothies, pies, or drink recipes. I would like to try making a version of Ben and Jerry's "Cherry Garcia" ice cream, with cherries and chocolate pieces. I'm also planning on making cherry tarts and possibly sangria. I've definitely earned back my $5 investment of so many years ago.