If the comments section of my post about sweet cherry pie is any indication, Serious Eaters tend to prefer sour cherries when it comes to pie. I was impressed to see folks rush to defend their allegiance in the matter of sour cherries v. sweet. Since I happen to agree, I made an extra effort to stalk the greenmarkets of New York City this week, not stopping until I found the star of what many people consider to be their all-time favorite pie filling: juicy, elusive fresh sour cherries.
We're coming to the end of sour cherry season here in NYC, but I've heard that you may squeeze out a few more weeks in other parts of the country. When shopping for sour cherries, look for firm, bright red flesh and try to avoid cherries that are browning around the stems, which is a good indication that they are beginning to rot. Sour cherries are fragile and decompose quickly, so plan to use them as soon as you can. Or, cache a stockpile in your freezer and enjoy them at a time when, for most, they are but a distant memory.
Admittedly, sour cherries are a drag to pit. Their skin is too delicate for the force of a cherry pitter and using one will cause a juice explosion all over your kitchen. I like to use a small paring knife instead. I hold the cherry between two fingers of one hand and make one long incision in the cherry, from pole to pole, so the blade runs along the pit. Then, I gently coax the pit out of the cherry with the thumb of the hand holding the knife. It's not a beautiful cut, but it gets the job done.
If I was offered one kind of pie on my deathbed, this is the one I would choose—a bold statement from a cook who writes a column entitled "Pie of the Week". I promise that all the pitting will be worth it.