There are cherries littering my parents driveway this week, and every time I drive up I’m afraid I’m going to hit one of the chipmunks that are feasting on the fallen plenty. This land where I grew up is an old cherry orchard. These days, the trees are 40-60 feet tall, but still producing a bounty of delicious fruit which mostly go to the birds and the chipmunks because they’re up so high.
The trees produce sour or tart cherries which are small and bright red as opposed to sweet cherries which are larger and usually dark reddish black. Sour cherries are traditionally used for cooking. Obviously, you can make pie from sour cherries, but you can also make jam, chutney, crisps, a sauce for meat, cherry wine, or you can toss them in grain salads.
I recently read in The Drunken Botanist, a fascinating little book about the plants used to make various kinds of alcohol, that there is a kind of brandy made from the pits of sour cherries. It’s called kirsch or kirschwasser. I’m moving to New Hampshire next week to start a new job and maybe when I’m out there, I’ll meet a distiller and we can make kirschwasser.
But this post is really about sour cherry pie. The day that I made this pie, a friend was visiting from Virginia and she took many of the pictures in this post. Thanks Lisa!
Sour Cherry Pie
Step 1: Procure cherries. You don’t usually find sour cherries in a store. Usually, you have to know someone with a tree or go to an orchard.
Step 2: Pit your cherries. You can buy a cherry pitting machine which if you’re going to be processing a lot of cherries is probably a good investment. But if you’re just making a pie, you can pit the cherries with a paring knife and a bit of patience. Just slice the cherry in half and pop out the pit. When you’ve finished pitting the cherries, squeeze half a lemon over them to prevent discoloration.
Step 3: Make a really good pie crust.
2 2/3 cup flour
Large Pinch of salt
2 sticks cold unsalted butter
3-5 tablespoons of ice water
Put flour and salt in a large bowl. Then, using a knife, cut sticks of cold butter up into a small pieces. (I usually cut a stick of butter into 16 pieces). Add to flour. Using a pastry cutter, chop butter and flour mixture until butter is in tiny pieces. Then, add a drizzle of ice water and bring the dough together by squeezing the butter and flour and water together in your hands. Add a little more water if you need but make sure not to add too much because that will make your crust tough.
When the dough has come together, separate it into two pieces. Wrap both pieces in saran wrap or cover with a damp cloth and put the dough in the refrigerator for about an hour.
Step 4: Prepare your Filling
5-6 cups pitted cherries
3/4 cup sugar
3-4 tablespoons of flour or cornstarch or tapioca
Optional: 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1 teaspoon cinnamon
While the crust is chilling, prepare your filling by mixing together sugar, cherries, and a thickening agent. You can choose cornstarch or tapioca or just plain flour. All three starches will soak up the extra cherry juice as the pie is baking.
Step 5: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
Step 6: Roll out your dough
First, flour a clean surface. Plop one piece of dough in the center. ( Leave the other one in the fridge). Flour your rolling pin and begin rolling out your dough making sure to roll in each direction. This can be slightly challenging but just remember to keep your dough, surface, and pin well floured and you should be fine. When you’ve finished, carefully transfer crust into pie plate. The crust should be big enough to drape over the edges of the plate.
Step 7: Fill your crust
Place cherry mixture on top of the crust. Dot with a few teaspoons of butter.
Step 8: Make lattice.
Roll out your second pie crust and then using a knife, cut long strip of dough and carefully place them on top of your cherry mixture. Weave the pieces of the dough in an over under pattern to created the lattice. When you’ve finished, pinch the edges of the bottom crust to the edges of the lattice. If you have enough crust hanging over the edges of your pie plate, you can pinch the dough together into a pretty fluted ring around the outside of the pie. If you don’t have enough crust, don’t worry,your pie will still taste great.
Step 9: Brush Pie
To add color, whisk together 1 egg yolk and a bit of cream or milk. Brush, mixture across the top of the pie crust.
Step 10: Bake Pie
At 400 degrees, bake pie for 50-60 minutes. If the crust begins to get too dark, put a piece of tin foil over it. Remove tin foil for the last 10 minutes of the baking. The cherries should be bubbling in the middle when you remove the pie from the oven. Allow the pie to cool for 20-30 minutes and then enjoy!