We're rarely fans of single-use gadgets, but a cherry pitter is what you need. Don't have one? Luckily, there are other options.
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Sweet cherries
Credit: Raymond Hom

As much as we like to eat handfuls of whole, plump, sweet cherries, the next stage of enjoying this glorious stone fruits is to bake them into cherry pies, cherry clafoutis, and cherry everything else. Preserves are great, too: Sour cherries make the best jam. In order to make any of these delights, your cherries need to be pit-free. Unfortunately, the pits are firmly ensconced in that crimson flesh, and remove them can be tricky. So, what is the best way remove cherry pits? You have a few options.

The method you choose to remove cherry pits depends as much on your equipment as it does on what you wish to do with the fruit later. If you are baking a custardy clafoutis or a cherry pie, whole cherries, minus pits of course, are more attractive. If you're processing 10 pounds of cherries you will want to pit as fast as possible. If it's cherry jam you are making, or a deep red granita, you don't need the fruit to remain round. Halves are fine. No matter how you choose to remove their pits, it's important to know there is always going to be some collateral damage: Cherry juices stain, so wear an apron.

Use a Cherry Pitter

A classic cherry pitter is one of the few single-use kitchen gadgets we actually endorse (a microplane is another). A basic cherry pitter pits one fruit at a time and leaves the fruit whole. While it is a slow and methodical method, the advantage of using a classic cherry pitter is that you can be sure you haven't missed any pits. A stray pit in a pie can ruin someone's week or make you wish you had dental plan.

The metal, no-frills, Westmark Kernex Cherry Pitter ($10.99, bedbathbeyond.com) is made in Germany and is indestructible. It's a cherry pitter your grandkids can inherit. (They'll be so pleased!) The cherry is loaded, you squeeze, and the pit pops out, if you have aligned the narrow plunger with the stem-end of the fruit. Pit cherries over a deep bowl to reduce splashing. Place the pitted cherry into a smaller bowl on your workspace. If you prefer a more substantial handle, OXO's Good Grips Cherry Pitter ($12.99, oxo.com) has exactly that: a wider grip. It also has a cup designed for larger cherries, which may have to be squeezed into the European pitter. You might also be happy to know that this cherry pitter has the additional and thoughtful feature of a splash guard. (We still think you should wear the apron, though!)

Another category of cherry pitter is the standing cherry pitter; it's almost more an appliance than a tool (and requires more storage space), but it goes a wonderful job of removing those pesky pits. With Norpro's Deluxe Cherry PItter ($13.45, amazon.com) you can fit about 10 cherries into a tray, where they roll one at a time into the pitting area. Plunge the pitter into each cherry and the pit goes into the container while plunger pulls out the pitted cherry. While you can work through many pounds of cherries this way, it's very important to check that that each has been de-pitted. There will be misses.

If you are exasperated by pitting one fruit at a time, you can load six cherries into OXO's Quick Release Multi-Cherry Pitter ($21.99, oxo.com). Just make sure to line arrange them stem-sides up for success. After a couple of test runs, we promise you'll get the rhythm. A handy catch-tray collect the pits while you work. This is a splash-free as it gets. Again, you'll need to check that each cherry truly is pit-free.

What Can You Use If You Don't Have a Cherry Pitter?

While our advice is to buy a little classic pitter, there are other ways to pit a cherry! The chef's knife squash is a useful technique for when you need an intact cherry: Remove the stalk from the cherry and place the fruit on your cutting board so the stem end is pointing to the side, not up. Flatten the cherry by pressing the flat of your largest chef knife blade (or cleaver) against it with the heel of your hand. Lean on it (there will be a squirt of juice, so watch out!); this loosens the flesh and will split the cherry. Wiggle the pit out with your fingers. There's also the slice method, which yields two halves: Slit the cherry all the way around. The direction doesn't matter. Twist the halves in opposite directions and pull apart. One side will be pit-free. Pry out the pit from the other side with the sharp tip of a small knife.

The bottle method is fun and works best with very fat cherries. Place a stemmed cherry atop an empty wine bottle or glass soda bottle. Take a chopstick and push its narrow end down into the stem-end. As the thicker part of the chopstick works its way through the pit is forced into the bottle. (Once again, don't forget to wear an apron!)

The paperclip method may drive you insane, but it's till technically possible. Locate a sturdy metal paperclip (this may take some time). Open it so it's an S-shape. Remove the cherry stem. Push the paper clip forcefully into the stem end. This is not easy. Once it's in, wiggle and turn the clip so that it loosens the pit. Jostle and jiggle and try not to use bad words as you maneuver the pit out. That cherry pitter you ordered will have arrived by the time your cherries are all pitted.

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