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Nary a Tart Cherry Pie to be Found, Until Now

May 29, 2014

According to the calendar, summer is more or less upon us, although you may not be able to tell from the weather. It’s time for barbecues, picnics and pie. Yes. Pie. Aside from rhubarb pie, virtually all other fruit pies are cloyingly sweet: good if that’s what you are in the mood for. But if your tastes run a bit on the tart side, a tart cherry pie is sure to please.

Fresh tart cherries can be picked from trees in the early and mid summer, that is, if the birds don’t get to them first. Many a fond memory of an hour’s labor picking cherries, with juice dripping down my arm spring to mind after that first bite of warm tart cherry pie. Unfortunately, the tree and its tart cherries are long gone and after perusing the supermarket aisles, it would seem that sweet cherry pies are more than just popular. Cans of sweet cherry pie filling are ubiquitous in the baking aisle where tart cherries, let alone tart cherry pie filling, are nowhere to be seen.

Thank goodness we can make our own, and quite easily at that. Finding tart cherries is going to be the hardest task. They aren’t sold in the produce section much like Concord grapes aren’t sold in the produce section. I’ve yet to find them frozen like other fresh fruits. Finding an orchard that also has a few tart cherry trees for fresh picked cherries is ideal, but those will only be available for a limited time during the summer, and I’ve actually never seen such a beast. It seems that canned varieties are the only option. Which isn’t really a bad thing. Quality and quantity are consistent, and availability usually isn’t a problem, although the only source I’ve been able to find locally are Oregon brand tart cherries in their juice.

Once you’ve sourced your cherries, the crusts are you last hurdle to a delicious pie. Homemade crusts are preferred, but not required for an outstanding pie. If you’ve tried your hand at crusts, and always end up with tough crusts, or worse, crusts that fall apart, opt for the rolled packaged crusts without fear. If you’ve got a favorite pastry dough recipe, by all means, use that, but the recipe below won’t steer you wrong.

As a cautionary tale, cherry stones are called stones for a reason, and they are more prevalent than is generally appreciated. If you would like to pick over the cherries before putting this pie together just to make sure all the pits are removed, be sure to reserve all the liquid from both cans first. A quick squeeze or press of each cherry will ensure a stone-free pie.

This pie, like all fruit pies should be cooled completely before you cut into it otherwise the filling will just flow out of the pie, and into the pie plate. If you like warm pie, about 15 seconds in the microwave will warm a slice nicely. A scoop of French vanilla ice cream or a generous dollop of freshly whipped cream wouldn’t go amiss with this pie.

Pastry Dough for 2 9-inch pies (or 2 9-inch pie crusts)

  •  2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon finely ground kosher salt
  • ½ cup shortening
  • ¼ cup cold butter, cubed
  • ice water

In a large mixing bowl, cut shortening and butter into the flour and salt with a pastry knife until the shortening/butter is the size of peas. Add the ice water, a tablespoon at a time to the flour, moistening it with a fork until the flour can be gathered into a ball. Knead it gently until it holds together. Cover the dough with plastic wrap until you are ready to roll out the crusts. Divide the dough in half and roll each to a 12-inch diameter for the top and bottom crusts.

Alternately, this can be accomplished in a food processor. Pulse the flour, salt, shortening and butter in the large workbowl with the knife attachment until the fats are pea sized. Add the ice water, a tablespoon at a time and pulse for a few seconds after each addition. Once the dough begins to form into a ball, remove the dough from the processor and knead gently until it comes together. Continue as above.

Tart Cherry Filling

  • 2 14.5 ounce cans of tart pitted cherries in their juice
  • ⅔ cup white sugar
  • ¼ cup corn starch
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • a few drops of red food coloring, optional

 

Preheat the oven to 375°F and turn on the convection fan if you have one. Pour the cherries and all their liquid into a 3-quart saucepan. Add the remaining ingredients and heat over medium heat, stirring constantly until the filling boils and thickens. If you like your pie filling to penetrate the crusts, heat the filling to about 175°F. Do not allow it to boil.

Roll out the bottom crust and ease it into a 9-inch pie plate or 8-inch deep dish pie plate. Trim the crust if need be. Place the pie plate in a baking sheet to catch any filling that cooks over. Carefully pour the filling into the crust. Roll out the top crust and carefully place it over the pie. Fold the top crust over the edges of the bottom crust and pinch to seal. Crimp the edges however you like. Slash the top crust to vent steam. Brush the top crust with heavy whipping cream, sprinkle with a teaspoon of white sugar or large crystal decorator’s sugar.

Cover the pie crust edges with foil to keep the top edge from browning too darkly. Bake the pie for 30 minutes. Remove the foil from the edge of the pie and bake for an additional 30 minutes or until the filling is very thick and bubbly.

Cool the pie completely before cutting.

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