Seasonal Flavors: Cherry Pie

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By Denise Zito

Is life really just a bowl of cherries? Well maybe. There is the cliché of the pits. But there is also the juiciness, the tartness, the sweetness and the opportunity to pick. June is cherry month and if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on some of the marvelous tart cherries available around here, then you can make the very best pie ever. I’ve spent the past few Junes up in the tree watching the Baltimore orioles (the birds, not the baseball players) compete with me for the fruit. I don’t have the heart to chase them.

Some people are convinced that they can’t make pie crust. Yes, you can!

Over the years I’ve learned a few tricks that keep my anxiety low, improve the chances of success and even have some people convinced that I make a great pie. You can too.

Good pie pastry requires the right amount of ingredients for the pie plate you’re using, cold shortening and as little manipulation of the dough as possible. Remember, you’re not making bread; pastry requires a light touch. If you follow the cookbook recipes, you often end up with less crust than pie plate—that’s what frustrates the novice baker. But think about it: these are inexpensive ingredients so it’s better to have a little extra than to not have enough. Keeping these two points in mind, your crust will improve and there will be fewer failures.

If cherries are abundant, I freeze a couple of quarts so that I can make a pie at Thanksgiving (along with the obligatory pumpkin) and one on Washington’s birthday, to honor the legend of his tree-felling adventure. My sister saves hers and celebrates the first snow with a cherry pie. You see, it’s an all-occasion dessert.

Top and Bottom Crust for a 9-inch Pie

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • 1 cup chilled shortening (that is key)
  • 3 T chilled butter
  • 6 T ice water

Sift the flour and salt together. Add half of the shortening and half of the butter and cut it into the flour with a pastry blender till it has the consistency of cornmeal. Then add the other half of the shortening and butter and cut into the dough more coarsely. Add the ice water and stir with a fork until it holds together. It’s the ice water that lowers the temperature of the shortening to hold the crust together. Add more water if you need to. Refrigerate until you’re ready to roll it.

On a floured surface, roll half the dough into a circle about two inches wider than the circumference of your pie shell. Roll it up on your rolling pin and lay carefully into the pie plate. Pierce the crust a few times with a fork.

Add the pie filling (recipe below) and then repeat with the top crust. Crimp the edges together, turning the dough under the edge of the pie plate to prevent leakage. Cut a few vent holes into the top to allow steam to escape. Decorate with some of that extra dough you now have. Go crazy—cut the dough into leaf shapes or whatever you fancy.

Cherry Pie Filling

  • 4 cups sour cherries, 
  • washed and pitted
  • 2-2/3 T tapioca
  • 1-1/3 cup sugar 
  • 2 T kirsch (a cherry liqueor)
  • 2 T butter

Mix all ingredients except the butter. Let stand for 15 minutes, fill the pie crust then dot with the butter and add the top crust.

Bake at 450°F for ten minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 350°F for about 40 minutes until the pie is golden brown.

Cherry pie is one that I prefer served cold, but you can serve at whatever temperature you like.