A cherry pitter is one of those tools you might not own, since it really only does one thing (or maybe two). But if you plan to use fresh cherries for making desserts or baked goods, you're going to need to get those pits out somehow.
Some recipes, like cherry clafoutis or cherry cobbler, only use a couple of cups of cherries, which works about to around 40 cherries. But if you're making a cherry pie, that's usually more like 5 cups of cherries, which works out to around 100 cherries. Obviously, this is going to take a bit of time.
Here are a few of the best methods for pitting cherries, whether you're doing them by the cup or by the pound.
The Chopstick and Bottle Method
The single best method is to use is probably the chopstick and bottle method. It's quick, it's tidy, and it doesn't mangle the cherries. You'll need a chopstick and a bottle with a narrow opening, like a beer or wine bottle.
Place the cherry on the opening of the bottle, with the stem hole facing up. Press the pointy or narrowest end of the chopstick straight down through the stem hole and through the cherry, driving the pit out and down into the bottle.
The Chopstick Method
You can use the chopstick method without the bottle. Just hold the cherry in one hand and press the chopstick through with the other. It's a bit messier, but it will get the job done. The nice thing about the bottle is it helps to stabilize the cherry, and the pits just drop into it instead of going everywhere. Also, it saves wear and tear on your fingers. That chopstick might not be sharp, but after poking it into your fingertips 100 times, they might feel a bit tender.
A thin pastry tip will also work instead of a chopstick. Just place the tip pointing up on your cutting board and press the cherry down onto it.
The Twist Method
This method requires something thin that you can insert into the cherry and then twist to remove the pit. Good options are a toothpick, unbent paper clip, hair pin, lobster pick, or a metal orange stick (used for manicures). Insert whichever tool you choose into the stem-end of the cherry. You should feel it hit the pit. Then twist your implement around the pit and pop it out.
It will take you a few cherries to get the feel of it. Be patient, experiment a bit to find the tool and the twisting motion that works best for you, and don't worry about the mangled mess of those first few cherries—they'll still taste good.
The Pairing Knife Method
In addition to these methods, you could also use a paring knife to cut the cherry in half and remove the pit, exactly like you might if you were cutting a peach. You could use the blade to pry the pit out of the cherry, or just remove it with your fingers. This method will work best with firmer cherries.
The Hands Method
Alternately, you could simply rip the cherries open with your fingers, although this method assumes sharp thumbnails and a high tolerance for messiness—both your fingers and the cherries themselves, which will end up pretty badly mutilated. The finger method will work best with cherries that are more on the ripe side.
Using Pitted Cherries
Whichever method you've chosen, once you've completed one cherry discard the pit and repeat with the remaining fruit until done.
Now you are ready to incorporate the cherries in a baked good, throw them into smoothies, make brandied cherries or pickled cherries, or serve them any way other than out-of-hand (pitted cherries are a bit messy to eat that way).
Pitting cherries is also a good idea when you're lucky enough to have too many cherries to use promptly. Using one of the methods, pit the leftover cherries and freeze them to use in recipes later on.
Do You Need a Cherry Pitter?
With kitchen utensil drawers being the crowded mess that they universally are, it's understandable that you might not want to buy yet another thing. But it really all comes down to how often you intend to perform that task. If you bake cherry pie four times a year, a cherry pitter might be a worthwhile gadget to have. A good one can be had for less than fifteen bucks. (And if it helps to justify its place in your drawer, a cherry pitter will also pit olives.)