Make cheesecake with your backyard sour cherries

Think sour cherries are for birds? The magpies probably wish you did. Come mid- to late-July when the fruit ripens, I’ve had to chase them away to keep them from picking my own small trees clean.

The truth is the sweet-tart flavour of this reliable backyard crop can be put to use in everything from drinks to breads to preserves to desserts. When we asked Lesley Ward (Cooking ’95) how best to use them, the executive chef for eat AT NAIT, the polytechnic’s in-house food services, suggested a sweet and savoury mainstay.

“I have a cheesecake recipe that would be killer with sour cherries!” said Ward.

So chase off the birds, get picking and try out the recipe below. You’re in for a treat.

Recipe: Sour Cherry Cheesecake with Shortbread Cookie Crust


For shortbread crust

125 ml (1/2 c) unsalted butter (room temperature)
60 ml (1/4 c) granulated sugar
125 ml (1/2 c) flour
125 ml (1/2 c) finely ground Shortbread cookies

For cheesecake

0.9 kg (2 lbs) cream cheese
250 ml (1 cup) mascarpone cheese
375 ml (1 1/2 c) sugar
2 eggs
250 ml (1 c) sour cherries, pitted
12 ml (2 1/2 tsp) lemon zest
30 ml (2 tbsp) fresh squeezed lemon juice



Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together on medium high speed for 3-4 minutes. Add flour and ground cookies to the mixture and blend for 3-4 seconds until fully incorporated. Press the mixture evenly into the bottom of a 9-inch spring form pan. Bake the crust at 350 F (180 C) for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow the crust to cool completely.


Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until light and smooth. Add the mascarpone cheese and sugar and continue to beat on medium speed. Add the eggs 1 at a time. Blend in the lemon zest and juice. Fold cherries into mixture, and pour into the cooled crust.

Set the cheesecake pan into a roasting pan, and add enough water to the roasting pan to reach halfway up sides of the cheesecake pan. Place in a 350 F (180 C) oven for approximately 1 hour or until the cake is set and the top is golden brown. Remove the cake from the roasting pan and place on a wire rack. Allow cake to cool slightly, then place the cake in the refrigerator for 6 hours or overnight.

Great Alberta sour cherries

Looking for hardy cherry varieties for your backyard? There are plenty of options – all of them rich in not just flavour but nutrients that include cancer-fighting compounds, making them a locally grown superfruit.

  • Evans – this small tree (5 metres tall, 3m wide) produces pound upon pound of thumbnail-size cherries.
  • Carmine Jewel – this multi-stemmed, 2m-by-2m shrub makes a small, tart berry and has a reputation as the toughest cherry producer for northern Alberta.
  • Nanking – a holdover from your grandparents’ garden, Nanking rivals Carmine Jewel’s hardiness and grows slightly larger. Expect small, sweet-tart berries after a dense flush of white flowers.

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