Is it your birthday? Would you like me to bake you a pie? What kind of pie? Is it autumn? Well, let’s make it an apple pie. Winter? Then how about something festive–coconut cream or chocolate, perhaps Spring? Well, clearly I should make you a strawberry pie. But if it’s summertime, I am afraid you will have no choice in the matter. If it’s summertime, I am going to make you a sour cherry pie. Not just any cherry, mind you. Sour cherry. The best pie cherry in the entire world.
This is not the first time I have written about my dedication to sour cherries. It is, however, the first time I have admitted publicly that when I make my best friend a sour cherry pie for her birthday every July, the joy I get from working with the cherries is as great as the joy my best friend gets from eating the cherries.
Sound implausible? Think about it for a minute. You know how birdwatchers get all giddy and flushed when they witness a rarely-seen bird? Or how antique aficionados can be rendered breathless when faced with a mint condition Arts and Crafts Roycroft chair? That’s how I feel about sour cherries. Sour cherries, so fleeting in their availability, are, to me, akin to rare birds. Their brief and glorious appearance occurs but once a year and is so short-lived that as soon as you hesitate to appreciate them, they are long gone.
Though I am aware of how over the top this comparison may seem, I am also aware of the fact that, as someone who spends an inordinately large amount of time in the kitchen, my senses and perceptions of time, seasons, and memory tend to lean towards the food-based. And that means that when July rolls around, I can look forward to hot weather, evenings in the garden, my best friend’s birthday, and sour cherry pie.
Sour Cherry Pie
Filling ingredients and baking method adapted from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book
As noted in the photos above, I like to pit sour cherries using an unfurled paper clip. My sister-in-law taught me that trick, and I’ve found no better way to remove pits from sour cherries (which are a very soft and juicy type of cherry). The paper clip removal is very simple: you hold a cherry in one hand, and with the other hand you just insert one u-shaped end of an open paper clip into the stem hole of a cherry, flip the paper clip up, and the pit pops right out (it only looks like I accomplish the action one-handed in the picture above because I needed my other, non-paper-clip-holding hand to hold the camera). The cherry is never smashed, and the flesh remains intact. If you have a cherry pitter, by all means, feel free to use it. If you don’t, however, I really recommend the paper clip method.
Pie crust for 1 double crust pie.
( This is my favorite pie crust recipe. Since the recipe makes only enough dough for a single crust pie, all the ingredients will need to be doubled. When the dough has been mixed together, divide it in half, form each half into disks, wrap each disk in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.)
6 cups pitted sour cherries (fresh, not canned)
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons quick cooking tapioca
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon almond extract
1 egg white, lightly beaten
On a lightly floured surface, roll out 1 disk of pie dough into a 12-inch circle. Fit the dough into a 9-inch pie plate, allowing the edges of the dough to hang over the sides of the pie plate. Place in refrigerator while you prepare the other half of the dough.
One a lightly floured surface, roll the other disk of dough into a rectangle roughly 12 by 10 inches long. Cut the rectangle lengthwise into 8 strips that are 12 inches long. Place strips of dough on a baking sheet and refrigerate while you prepare the pie filling.
In a large bowl, combine cherries and sugar. Gently toss together, then set aside for 20 minutes to allow the cherries to release some of their juices.
Adjust an oven rack to its lowest level, then preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with a piece of aluminum foil, then place the foil-lined baking sheet on the adjusted rack while the oven preheats.
Reserve ¼ cup of juice from the bowl of cherries, then drain cherries thoroughly through a colander. Return the cherries to the same bowl, then add the reserved juice, tapioca, cinnamon, almond extract, and salt. Toss together until combined.
Pour the cherries into the dough-lined pie plate and weave the long strips of dough over the top in a lattice pattern. (There is a good tutorial on how to do this here, but keep in mind that you will, obviously, be using fewer strips of dough.) Trim the edges of the lattice even with the overhang of the lower crust, then fold up the edges and crimp into place using your fingers. Brush the top crust of the pie with the beaten egg white.
Place the pie on the heated, foil-lined baking sheet and bake until the top crust has started to turn golden, about 25 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees, rotate the baking sheet, and continue cooking the pie until the juices are bubbling and the crust has turned uniformly dark golden brown, about 25 to 35 minutes longer.
Allow the pie to cool on a wire rack for at least 2 hours, until the filling has set.