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Sour Cherries and the Trouble with Pies

July 5th, 2011 · 34 Comments

What is it about baking a pie that strikes fear into the heart of even accomplished home cooks and, ahem, food bloggers alike? A flaky pie crust is a lovely showcase for summer’s ripest berries and fruit, but it’s that pesky crust that seems to spoil the best pie-making intentions. I’m guilty myself of scrapping plans for a pie to make a cobbler or crisp instead. Even if you have a trusty crust recipe on hand, a pie must be planned for — with the requirement to chill the dough before rolling it out, it simply cannot be left to the last minute. (And then you’re supposed to let it cool before serving — rather than immediately spooning it out and scooping a spoonful of vanilla ice cream on top.)

sampling sour cherries

I dragged lured the whole family out to the Bloomingdale Farmers Market on Sunday to secure the elusive sour cherries* for pie baking. (Reid’s Orchard at the market is one of my favorite sources of summer berries and fruits.) Seriously, the mad rush for sour cherries at the more trafficked DC markets is even to put anyone off baking. Not so at Bloomingdale, where the boy observed the modest line at the berry stand and said, “Let’s come back to this one,” before continuing down to pick an array of summer squashes from Garner’s. We selected hot dogs from Truck Patch for grilling, pastries from Panorama Bakery to consume right there (with iced coffee drinks from Big Bear Cafe next door), and some cheese from Keswick Creamery (and chocolate pudding … for the husband). After cooling down on Big Bear’s patio — where the boy joined several other children in planting himself under the mister — we picked up a pint of Dolcezza gelato to go as well.

foodietots cherry pie

But back to the pie… Pie crust is nothing complicated — butter (or lard), salt, sugar, flour, water. Use cold butter and work quickly, and chill the dough thoroughly before rolling it out. Rolling a pie crust is an essential skill  for any child to learn, so sprinkle a generous amount of flour onto your clean counter or cutting board and put them to work — and then, should it turn out less photogenic than you’d hoped, you can just inform your guests that your little one made the crust. ;-)

Now the good thing about pie is that once you conquer your fears of crust-making, the filling is endlessly adaptable. A couple (~4) cups of berries or fruit, 2 tablespoons corn starch, 1/2-cup or so of sugar, squeeze of lemon juice and pinch of fresh herbs or spices. (I like nutmeg with cherries, a tiny bit of rosemary or thyme with peaches, and of course, cinnamon with apples.) Toss them together and pour into the prepared shell, dot the top with butter and arrange your top crust — or strips, latticed if you want to get fancy — over. Crimp the edges (again, no need to get fancy — a quick pinch will do), cut a few slices for venting, and bake. (400 degrees for about an hour, covering edges with a strip of foil to prevent over-browning.) Voila! Now just try to resist slicing into it until it’s cooled.

It’s #PieParty today, a virtual pie bake-fest created by GlutenFree Girl, and more than a thousand bloggers are conquering crust-phobia to share their pie creations.

When pie baking plans go awry (read: kids or life in general get in the way of baking time), here’s a fall-back strategy: pit the cherries (or otherwise wash/prep the fruit you have on hand), toss them with the cornstarch/sugar/spices, and pour into a gallon-sized freezer bag. Stick it in the freezer until another day… and enjoy almost-instant pie.

pickled cherries

* Wondering what else to do with sour cherries? Try homemade bourbon cherries (for the grown ups, of course), or pickle them for a wonderful accompaniment to cheese. If time is less of an issue for you, here’s a recipe to put up sour cherry pie filling for winter, via the domestic guru Mrs. Wheelbarrow.

Tags: at market · baked goods · baking · cooking with kids · dessert · summer

34 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jill // Jul 6, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    I prefer Rainier cherries – are they good in pie, too?
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  • 2 Maggie // Jul 7, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    Last time I made pie it was exactly the crust that ruined my entire concoction, and it was pre-made crust too!! I’m going to try again, in the spirit of summer, after seeing how amazing your pie turned out in the pictures. Wish me luck.
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  • 3 chrissy // Jul 8, 2011 at 1:28 am

    Wow that looks yummy! Honestly, i never made pie before. I do not know how and i just don’t have the skill for cooking and baking. I would love to make something like this but i got to show this first to my mom so that she can guide me on how to do it.
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  • 4 miersunshine // Jul 12, 2011 at 10:36 am

    PIE… remember having to eat all these sweet pies like custard, chocolate, pineapple, banana and lemon pies ..long time ago when my step dad cooked for us..(but he’s gone) now I only crave for these..I can only eat pizza pie now….
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  • 5 angela patton // Jul 14, 2011 at 7:40 am

    Wow! This is my weakness! I love all the pies in the world! Bu I DON’T BAKE! =`( I am such fond of pies, I have no idea why. This is actually something new to me, I would like to ask our cook to bake me some goodie pies. Sour cherry pies? whoaaah! hehe

    lol at miersunshine “pizza pie” thing…heheh

    hmm…i should learn how to bake a pie…i just usually bake cookies and brownies. it’s easier! hahaha although sometimes it turns out to be a bit hard (bummer!) Thanks for the share!
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  • 6 Diane // Jul 27, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    I love cherry pie! Montmorency sour cherries from Utah are my favorite. I finally found a crust recipe I like and it sure makes a big difference.

  • 7 Diana // Jul 28, 2011 at 5:30 pm

    Wow, this looks great! Whenever I have sour cherries that I spent so long picking from the store, I usually just stuff it into a cake mix and bake a cake from it. But the bourbon cherries sounds so good I’m going to try that next! What a great idea! Thanks for sharing!
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  • 8 hannamay // Aug 10, 2011 at 11:34 am

    I agree with you Chrissy, I don’t know how to bake pie…
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  • 9 Myca // Sep 1, 2011 at 8:21 am

    I love cherries! Especially on pies my mom always make as cherry pie when I was a child and it became my favorite food!
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  • 10 Jacob@Repo Cars // Sep 6, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    Yummy! That looks very delicious! I love the twists of berries and it is very good.. My wife should try this..this could be the most yummy post I’ve ever seen..

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  • 11 Jessica Nelson // Sep 19, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    I love berries! I admit that I don’t know how to bake a pie, if I want to eat pie I’ll just buy at the grocery, but I love this one! I wish I can cook like this.
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  • 12 Peter // Oct 14, 2011 at 7:06 am

    I made my first batch of preserved cherries 3 months ago and found that the Bing (as well as the Rainier), when macerated in maraschino, were far too sweet for my palate. Particularly as compared to the perfection of the sour cherries.
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