Do you have any dishes that while not your favorite, will remain indelibly associated in your mind with a particular family member? That it is important to you to learn to make just because that dish is a part of your culinary heritage, even though it is not your cup of tea?
That is my mom’s (sour) cherry pie. She is famous for it, people near and far beg her to make it. When we were growing up we had a sour cherry tree growing next to my mom’s bedroom. Every spring my mother would wait with gleeful anticipation for the cherries to be ready and we would clamber out her bedroom window and sit on the roof, picking cherries. Picking them was fine–but I usually disappeared when it came time to pit them. I got away with this because I am not a big cherry pie fan. I never liked it much because A. I am not a big lover of traditional pie crust, which she makes (I like something sweeter) and B. I don’t really like sour cherries–or any cherries for that matter. Therefore, given that my issues have nothing to do with my mom’s pie and everything to do with cherry pie in general, I feel confident claiming that if you like (sour) cherry pie you will love this pie. And I am also very glad I learned to make it–at her side this past week no less–since even if I don’t love it, it will always have a warm, fuzzy place in my culinary mind.
We experimented with brushing the top with melted butter and sprinkling it with coarse sugar–unfortunately it burned the edges (this was my innovation, not my mom’s, since as I said I like a sweeter pie crust). I loved what it did to the middle, unburnt pie crust (crispy sweetness), so next time I would pull the pie out with about 10 minutes to go and brush the butter on and sprinkle the sugar. Speaking of my desire for more sweetness, I served my pie with vanilla ice cream, but my mom (and most other people I know) prefer the pie plain.
About that (sour)–sour cherry pie is the only kind of cherry pie I grew up with and it is the only kind of cherry my mother would ever cook with. But when I got married I realized the rest of the world did not necessarily think this way and my husband was surprised and mildly disappointed by the pie as he had expected bing cherries. Which is a pretty different flavor. They are not interchangeable any more than you could exchange rhubarb for strawberries as the sweetness level is radically different.
This is, needless to say, my submission to our Family Recipes event. Sorry it is so late! I’ll take submissions at thespicedlife AT gmail DOT com until Sunday night at 12 AM since I was so late myself. The round up should be posted in the upcoming week, so stay tuned!
Susan’s Cherry Pie
Crust adapted from Better Homes & Garden (edition released before parents’ wedding in 1972–she could not find the publication year)
2 cups AP flour
1 t salt
2 t sugar
2/3 cup lard (if pork is a problem, sub in shortening but Mom really prefers lard)
5-7 T cold water
1 qt sour cherries, as freshly picked as possible (should be bright red)
1-1 1/2 cups sugar (will depend on tartness of cherries, see instructions)
pinch of salt
3 heaping T cornstarch
2 T salted butter, divided into 6-8 pieces
2 T salted butter for brushing onto crust
coarse sparkling sugar for sprinkling onto crust
Pre-heat the oven to 400 F. Place a rack on the second-to-lowest level (a cookie sheet under the pie plate will catch any drips as well)..
First make the pie crust dough: Whisk together the flour, salt and sugar. Cut the lard into the dough until it resembles a pile of crumbs, no pieces bigger then a pea. Starting with 5 tablespoons of cold water, toss the dough with 2 forks. If it is does not come together and form a ball, add the remaining water. The key with pie dough is to work it as little as possible. As soon as it forms a ball, pat it into 2 equal-sized fat discs (i.e., do not worry much about shaping them) and wrap with saran wrap. Place in the refrigerator and chill while making the filling (this pie crust does not pre-bake).
Make the filling: Clean and then pit the cherries. We do not use an fancy equipment for this–if you squeeze the cherry gently at the stem end, the seed will pop out. Do not worry about keeping the cherries nice–this is one dish where a little bruising will not hurt anything. One you have a small pile, dump 1 cup of sugar onto the cherries. Keep working, stirring the cherries occasionally to mix the sugar in. When you finish pitting the cherries, taste them. If they are still quite tart add up to 1/2 cup more sugar (ours did not need it–you will know).
Mix in the salt and cornstarch. Set aside. Take one of the pie crust discs out of the fridge and roll it out into a circle. Line the pie pan–do not worry about forming a neat edge right now. Dump the filling into the pan and dot the top of it with the 6-8 pieces of butter.
Roll out the remaining pie crust disc–try to keep it elongated, as in a rectangle or oval. Cut long strips out of the dough. Place the first strip across the center of the pie, twisting it as you lay it down. Place the next piece at a 45 degree angle from the first, also twisting it as you lay it down. Work from there, alternating directions with each strip (there should be 2 parallel rows) and always twisting as you lay it down. Do not worry about getting it perfect–this pie is wonderfully rustic. “Hopefully” (my mom’s phrasing) at the end you will have a little extra dough to help clean up the edges–how fancy you want them it up to you. We did not press them with a fork; rather we kind of crimped every so often.
Bake at 400 F for 50-55 minutes. In the meantime melt the 2 tablespoons butter. After the first 45 minutes, remove the pie and quickly brush the braided top and edges (i.e., just the crust) with butter. Generously sprinkle the top with sparkling sugar. Return to the oven and bake an additional 5-10 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the juices are bubbling. Let cool as long as you can before slicing (Mom says it is ok to slice warm; I would advise against slicing when super hot).