Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Homemade Cherry Pie Filling

An easy recipe for homemade cherry pie filling you can fix on the stovetop in only 30 minutes using simple ingredients like dark sweet cherries, lemon zest + juice, vanilla extract, and your favorite sweetener. Use the from-scratch filling for desserts like cherry pies, cobblers, crisps, danishes, turnovers, hand pies, ice cream sundaes, cheesecake, milkshakes & more! (gluten-free & dairy-free)

Easy Homemade Cherry Pie Filling
Over the years many home cooks have been persuaded by advertising from processed food companies that pre-made versions are better, faster & equal to the made-from-scratch stuff when really (most of the time) that couldn't be further from the truth.

Lots of homemade sauces, dips, dressings, and fillings are insanely easy and quick to make but we've lost that knowledge and/or become accustomed to ready-made foods. (Ex: chimichurri sauce, hummus, blue cheese dressing, cranberry sauce, honey mustard dressing, ranch dressing, and balsamic vinaigrette).

I love convenience just as much as the next person (hello frozen puff pastry), but there are so many things we can make at home (when we have the time & energy) with better quality ingredients that will save us money and taste a million times better. Pie filling is one of those things!

(Note: I originally shared this cherry pie filling back in August 2017 within my cherry turnovers post, but I decided to update the recipe & move it to a separate post in case folks want to use it for other desserts.)

Fresh Cherries For Homemade Cherry Pie Filling

Homemade fruit pie filling tastes far superior to the store-bought canned stuff because:
  • it uses fresh fruit that's in season (which makes it cheaper) OR fruit that was frozen at its peak ripeness (ripe fruit = more fruit flavor)
  • it's typically less sweet which makes it easier to taste the natural sweet-tart flavors in the fruit (it helps that we get to control the type of sugar & spices used)
  • there are no cheap fillers, preservatives, or additives necessary since the filling goes straight into our fridge or freezer

In my case, I love using natural sweeteners that have a hint of molasses flavor such as maple syrup & coconut sugar. They taste amazing, make my body feel good, and I can get away with using less, which makes me extremely happy.

Most canned fruit fillings use high fructose corn syrup as the main ingredient, which is much too sweet, overly processed, and has no added flavor. You're better off making it a home with whatever sweetener makes you happy.

How to Make Cherry Pie Filling From Scratch

Ingredients + Tips For Homemade Cherry Pie Filling

Here's what you'll need to fix this pie filling + some tips & suggestions for substitutions:
  • Dark Sweet Cherries: In the summertime, fresh is best (and also much cheaper). Frozen will definitely work (if you're wanting to make this for a fall or winter holiday), but you'll need to thaw the frozen fruit first and you may need to add a bit more cornstarch to compensate for the extra juices so you can thicken it properly. Look for a medium-sweet variety like Chelan or Bing. Depending on the variety, the cherries will have a bright or dark red color. You can always taste one first to see if it's sweet or tart enough to your liking. There are also other varieties like Rainer (that are yellow & red and extra sweet) and sour cherries, which will require different amounts of sugar. 
  • Lemon Zest + Juice: This adds a citrusy brightness to the cherries which compliments them beautifully and gives the pie filling that extra "something". I've also used lime zest + juice in the past so if that's easier for you to find, go for it! I've recently tweaked this recipe to add twice the amount of zest + juice because I like it better that way. In case you don't own one yet, here is my favorite citrus zester.
  • Vanilla extract: This adds a lovely fragrance to the cherries and because it has such a short cook time, you can still taste + smell it in the finished product. Some folks prefer almond extract, which I haven't tried yet, so that's another option.
  • Sweetener: As I mentioned above, I prefer natural sweeteners like coconut sugar or real maple syrup for the molasses flavors they impart, plus they're easier on my body (lower on the glycemic index compared to regular sugar). Other options are honey, brown sugar, muscovado, turbinado, and organic cane sugar. If you use honey you may want to add a touch less to the cherries since it has a stronger flavor (at least in my opinion). Keep in mind that liquid sweeteners like maple syrup will create a runnier pie filling so you will likely need to cook it a bit longer to get it to a thicker state if you're using it for turnovers or hand pies. 
  • Salt: I only add a pinch, which is enough to balance out the sweetness of the fruit + added sugar. My favorite is Celtic sea salt (the taste is fantastic for a finishing salt). 
  • Cornstarch + Water: These two ingredients combine to create a "slurry" that thickens the cherry juices to turn it into a glossy sauce. Make sure to add the slurry at the beginning with all of the other ingredients (especially if you're using a granulated sweetener). If you add it near the end when the skillet is hot, there is a good chance the cornstarch will clump and not mix fully into the juices. If that happens, don't fret. Just mix it as best as you can and then pick out any clumps afterward. Note: If you can't use cornstarch, arrowroot powder is a good thickening substitute, but I haven't recipe tested with that. Please let me know how it turns out if you do. 

Homemade Cherry Pie Filling (Easy & Naturally Sweetened)

Cherry Pie Filling Is So Quick & Easy To Fix

Today's recipe for cherry pie filling takes only 30 minutes to make on the stove. Most of that time is spent prepping the cherries (about 15 minutes to remove the stems & pits), another five to grab the ingredients & zest + juice the lemon, then everything goes into a skillet and cooks for 10 minutes.

So simple, even if you're not using a cherry pitter. I use a metal wine stopper, which works just fine for me! Even though it's not a labor-intensive made-from-scratch kinda recipe, but it sure tastes like you spent a lot of time in the kitchen. By all means, make a big batch for desserts and tell everyone it was a long process. ;)

The hardest part is resisting the urge to eat huge spoonfuls of it straight from the pan while it's still warm. Especially if you're saving it for a recipe and need a certain amount. :P

Since I was using this batch for cherry turnovers with lemon glaze, I didn't need the full amount, so I immediately spooned some of the filling (still warm) onto a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.

It was HEAVENLY! The epitome of simple summer pleasures. Does it get any better than that? Creamy pan-fried peaches and strawberry shortcake milkshakes definitely come close. :)

I have about a cup or so leftover in my fridge right now that I could freezer for later (it's yummy in smoothies). But...I'm thinking I may gently reheat it and spoon it over some pancakes, waffles,  overnight rolled oats, or overnight steel cut oats.

What's your favorite way to use cherry pie filling other than in a traditional pie? Leave a comment below and let me know! 

homemade cherry pie filling, from scratch, easy, best, naturally sweetened
Yield: 2 1/2 cups (approximately 24 oz)
Homemade Cherry Pie Filling

Homemade Cherry Pie Filling

Prep time: 20 MCook time: 10 MTotal time: 30 M
An easy recipe for homemade cherry pie filling you can fix on the stovetop in only 30 minutes using a few simple ingredients. Use the from-scratch filling for cherry pie, turnovers, ice cream, cheesecake, milkshakes, or just eat it by the spoonful!


  • 1 1/2 lbs of fresh dark sweet cherries (like Chelan or Bing)
  • 2 teaspoons of lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract (like homemade vanilla extract)
  • 1/2 a cup of sweetener (I prefer coconut sugar or real maple syrup)
  • Pinch of salt (I love this Celtic sea salt)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of water (room temp or cool)


  1. Wash and dry the cherries, place in a large bowl to contain any juice splatters, and remove the stems & pits using your favorite tool (cherry pitter, wine stopper, frosting tip, chopstick). Discard all the stems & pits.
  2. Pour the pitted cherries (plus any juices that have accumulated) into a large skillet. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, vanilla extract, sweetener, and salt.
  3. Measure the cornstarch into a small bowl, add the water, and stir until completely dissolved (no lumps). Pour the cornstarch mixture into the skillet.
  4. Turn the heat to medium, stir well to dissolve the sweetener (if using granulated), and cook, stirring every few minutes, for about 10 minutes, or until the juices are glossy & thickened to your preference.
  5. Remove from heat and cool completely. Store in the fridge in a tightly covered container & consume in 2-3 days OR freeze for up to 3 months. 


SWEETENER: The type of cherries you use and how sweet you like your filling will affect how much sugar is needed in this recipe. I used Chelan cherries, which have a medium sweetness, and prefer my desserts less sweet, so I used less sugar. I have not tried this with sour cherries, which will require more sugar. You can always taste the filling a few minutes before it's done (6-7 minutes into cooking) and add a bit more sugar if needed. COOKING: If the filling starts to simmer or boil before it's thick enough, reduce the heat to medium-low or low and continue cooking.
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Inspired By Let's Dish Recipes' Homemade Cherry Pie Filling

Click Here to Save This To Your Homemade Recipes Board On Pinterest!

An easy recipe for homemade cherry pie filling you can fix on the stovetop in only 30 minutes using simple ingredients like dark sweet cherries, lemon zest + juice, vanilla extract, and your favorite sweetener (mine is coconut sugar or maple syrup). Use the from-scratch filling for summer desserts like cherry pie, cobbler, crisp, turnovers, hand pies, ice cream sundaes, cheesecake, thumbprint cookies, danishes & milkshakes. (gluten-free & dairy-free)

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MEDICAL DISCLOSURE: The information included on this website is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. None of the opinions expressed here are meant to diagnose or treat any disease or illness. You should always consult your healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for your own situation or if you have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.

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