painting of sour cherry pie, cherry syrup and ingredients

Sour Cherry Pie (Detail) 12″ x 12″ gouache and watercolor paper. Sharyn Dimmick

How can cherries be a part of seasonal cooking in November when I don’t live in Australia? When the weather turns cold we turn to preserved foods. We still have apples on our backyard apple tree, but Mom asked me to roast a pork loin and some squash while she and my sister-in-law Barbara scrubbed and taped walls for painting (I know I got the better part of this division of labor). Because I am supposedly getting ready for a week away, I wanted an easy pie with no peeling and paring, no slicing, so I went for the canned cherries in the garage. These are pitted sour cherries canned in juice. Mom had made crust earlier in the week, so it was pie time again. And while I’m at it, I’ll just say that I have made fresh sour cherry pie from some sour cherries I scored at the Ferry Plaza market in San Francisco and — drum roll — we prefer pie made with canned sour cherries.

Here is how to make cherry pie — my cherry pie.

Make the crust first. If you make Madge’s recipe, you will have enough crust for two cherry pies, so you can pit my cherry pie against your favorite recipe, double the filling recipe and make two cherry pies from this recipe or save the extra crust for quiche or apple pie. Our recipe is handy at Thanksgiving and Christmas when you are baking lots of of pies, but. truth to tell, pie is never a problem here: we’ll eat it for breakfast, dinner, lunch and tea.

Once again, the no-rant version* of pie crust for your convenience:

Cut 1 cup of vegetable shortening plus 2 Tbsp of butter into 3 cups of unbleached flour and 1 tsp salt  until the mixture resembles small peas. Do not overwork the dough — you want to see streaks of fat in the raw dough: they will melt while baking and create flaky crust. If you use salted butter, you can reduce the salt to 1/4 tsp.

Into a 1-cup liquid measuring cup, break 1 large egg. Beat egg with fork until blended.

Add 1 Tbsp cider vinegar to egg and stir. Then add water until combined liquids measure 1/2 cup, plus a little more.

Add liquids to shortening and flour and work just until combined. Pat dough into a flattened circle. If you are a novice pie baker, you may want to wrap the dough in waxed paper and chill it for awhile. The intrepid and experienced can divide the dough in half and proceed by cutting one half-circle in half again — this recipe makes four crusts, so half of it will give you the crust for your two-crust cherry pie.

Roll crust out on a floured work surface with a floured rolling pin. Roll firmly but lightly, being sure to roll all the way to the edges — you want the crust thin, but you don’t want to press it down and make it stick. You’ll figure it out — it’s not that hard. Try your best to keep the crust circular. Measure the crust by setting your pie plate on top of it, allowing for enough crust to cover the sides. Fold rolled crust into quarters to pick it up and unfold it again in your pie tin.

Now you have an aesthetic choice to make. For that classic lattice cherry pie you can roll your next quarter of crust into another circle and cut the crust into long strips, which you will lay crosswise over the filling later. If you don’t have the inclination to build a lattice, just take your circle and fold it into quarters, leaving it for the top crust later.

Go and preheat your oven to 375 degrees if using a Pyrex pie plate. If you use metal, you can start the pie at 400, but be on hand to turn it down after ten or fifteen minutes.

Now the filling:

Mix 1/4 cup cornstarch and scant 3/4 cup sugar in a dry saucepan. Whisk until blended.

Open 2 cans of sour cherries packed in water (Do not use cherry pie filling, which belongs on The Horror Roll). Drain the juice from the cherries into a 2-cup measuring cup — you will have about 1 and 1/3 cups. Leave the drained cherries in the cans for now.

Whisk 1/3 cup cherry juice into the cornstarch and sugar and stir with whisk until thickened over medium heat. The first sign that the cornstarch is working is the appearance of little shapes that look like ragged skin. If you don’t care for the pale pink color add the secret ingredient, red food coloring, drop by drop until you get a hue you like — I particularly recommend this option if you are going the lattice crust route or planning to take photos of your pie. When the mixture is thick and glossy add the reserved cherries, remove from heat and stir in

1 Tbsp butter and

a grating of fresh nutmeg

Pour the filling into your prepared pie shell and weave your lattice strips over the top, or plonk your unfolded top crust over the filling and make an attractive pattern of knife slashes for vents. Do not wash your saucepan yet! Place pie in oven. Bake for about 50 minutes or until crust is nicely browned and filling is bubbling.

Now, remember that other cup of cherry juice sitting in your measuring cup? You can drink it if you want to, which Mom does sometimes, but this is what I do with it: put it in your saucepan. Add some sugar — more than a Tablespoon, less than a cup. Turn the burner back on and boil it down until thickened — you want it to coat the spoon and be bubbly and shiny. Decant carefully into a glass jar (pour along a spoon or a knife if you are nervous — the metal absorbs some of the heat). Let cool and then refrigerate. This will keep indefinitely in a cold refrigerator. It is delicious on cornmeal pancakes, stirred into your morning oatmeal, over ice cream, with lemon pound cake …. You can also add some cream and cook it into cherry caramel — you’ll never drain cherries over the sink or throw out cherry juice again!

Let your pie cool while you eat dinner or make tea (at least fifteen or twenty minutes — the hotter the pie when you cut it, the more likely the filling is to run. We don’t care a whole lot about this, but for a prettier pie give it some cooling time).

Serve plain or a la mode.

*For the full rant on pie crust, please visit Gravenstein Apple Pie.

Food notes: For the full flavor benefit you must make this with sour cherries packed in water and scant the sugar as I do. For those of you stateside, canned sour pie cherries show up infrequently at Canned Foods Grocery Outlet — aka “Half Foods.” Some cherry pie recipes call for lemon — that will not be necessary with this pie. Please do not make it with sweet cherries (Bings, Burlats, etc.) — sour cherries have a different flavor, the ideal flavor for cherry pie in my opinion. Try them and see. If you are out of cornstarch, you can substitute flour: if you use flour, your filling will be cloudy rather than clear, but it will taste equally good.

On Kale: When I wasn’t making cherry pie, baking acorn squash with hot mustard, honey, lime and black pepper, roasting the squash seeds or boiling down cherry syrup I finally tried my friend Cathy’s version of kale with fresh walnuts and homemade raisins. The verdict at the table? “It’s still kale.” Back to the tasting laboratory…

I’ll be away for eight days starting Sunday sans electronic devices with which to entertain you or read and respond to your comments. Please make comments anyway if you are so moved. I’ll be back to coach you through your cherry pie crises well before the run up to Thanksgiving. I’ll also instruct the robot to give you a post to read on Wednesday while I am gone. Au revoir, dear readers. I’ll be back in person November 14 with stories to tell and perhaps a new recipe or two.

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