From Susan: To paraphrase the old saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” – when life gives you a tree full of cherries in your front yard, make cherry pie …
My maternal grandparents’ yard in Beaver Falls, Penn. included, among other fascinations, several sour cherry trees. These were the source of wonderful pies and perhaps even more of a personal favorite, stewed cherries – delicious ladled over vanilla ice cream. My parents have carefully nurtured a sour cherry tree in their coastal Maine garden, surrounding it with a fence to keep out the deer and draping it with netting to foil the birds. The reward for all of this attention is a continuation of the cherry baking and stewing traditions that my mother, and subsequently her children, recall so fondly from our childhoods.
Our front yard here in Montclair, New Jersey, also has a cherry tree, planted by Ted’s best friend, William in memory of Ted’s father. They named it Bing, to pay tribute to the Big Band music my late father-in-law so adored. We assumed this pretty tree was purely ornamental, until, last week, while having our morning coffee in what we call “the front room,” I looked out the window and saw that Bing was loaded with bright red cherries. I had to know if they were, indeed, bings – or sours – so turned to the Internet, which told me that bing cherries grow primarily in Michigan and both male and female trees are needed to propagate and produce fruit. Since we only have one tree and sour cherries are far more common in this part of the country, I assumed that’s what they were. My son, a friend and I picked a colander full and because I couldn’t reach my mother, I found what looked like a great recipe for a sour cherry pie in the U.S.A. Cookbook by Sheila Lukins. It calls for the filling to be cooked slightly, and the thickener is flour; my mother’s recipe, I learned after the fact, uses tapioca and does not require pre-cooking the cherries. Of course any cherry pie recipe requires that the cherries be pitted, which I discovered is not at all an unpleasant task when done outdoors on a beautiful summer evening accompanied by someone you love and a glass or two of chilled sauvignon blanc …
Sour Cherry Pie
Pie dough for a double crust in a 9-inch, deep-dish pie plate (I confess I used Pillsbury unroll-and-bake, which to my mind, is perfectly fine in a pinch, good, even!)
6 cups pitted sour cherries
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 large egg white, lightly beaten with 1 tbsp. water
Combine the cherries, sugar, flour and almond extract in a large saucepan. Stir well and bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Boil for 1 minute, stirring to keep mixture from sticking. Remove from heat, and cool to room temperature. (I hurried this process along by pouring the filling into a Pyrex bowl and putting in the fridge for about 15 mins.)
Preheat the oven to 400. Line the pie plate with the bottom crust. Brush with some of the egg white mixture to prevent sogginess, then spoon the filling into the shell. Cover with top crust, fold edges under and pinch to seal. Cut decorative designs or simple slits into the top to let steam escape. Bake on the middle rack of the oven until the filling is bubbly and the crust is golden brown – about 45 minutes. Let cool before serving warm or at room temperature.
That was Chapter One of my cherry story … Chapter Two begins two days later when, again over coffee in the front room, I look at the cherry tree and see that the cherries are much darker now. I pick one, and it’s quite sweet – Bing has lived up to his name! I had planned to bake a second pie – using my mother’s recipe this time – and take both to an afternoon party at our friends the Nicotras. But I didn’t want to make a bing cherry pie, so settled instead on another classic dessert. Stay tuned for more on what I baked and the rest of chef Fortunato Nictora’s party menu when Cherries, Chapter Two continues tomorrow …