My first attempt at brewing with cherries - a 5-gallon batch of cherry porter - was slightly disappointing. Here's what I did:
-Fermented the base beer for four days.
-Mixed 10 lbs of cherries with enough water to cover the fruit.
-Mashed the cherries with a giant perforated spoon.
-Pasteurized the mixture at 140 degf for 5 minutes.
-Cooled the fruit and added it to the beer.
-Fermented the beer for another ten days.
-Transferred the beer into a keg, leaving the cherries behind.
The finished beer wasn't bad, but the cherry contribution was pathetic. It should come as no surprise that the spent cherries were largely whole when I removed them from the fermenter. Next time, I'll either need to mash the cherries before adding water - both so they don't "swim" away from the spoon and so I can watch my progress - or let the beer age on them for months.
The next beer I brewed was a Belgian "Pumpkin" Ale. Spiced beers require fresh spices, so I bought new cinnamon and ginger the previous day. As a firm believer that pumpkin doesn't contribute any flavor to beer, I used butternut squash instead (credit for the idea goes to Mike Ball, a gifted Madison-area homebrewer). Butternut squash is a joy to work with: just cut it into cross-sections, cut off the peels, grate the meat with a cheese grater and add it to the mash. No seeds, no guts, no hassle. I chose not to roast the squash because I don't think it accomplishes anything. The beer is still fermenting, so the final outcome is unknown.