Sunday, July 31, 2011

Perfect Cherry Pie

Cherry Pie

Cherry pies are tricky: if you're not fortunate to live in an area where pie cherries are grown, you're probably used to the pies made with canned cherry pie filling. The difference between those pies and a pie made with fresh cherries is, well, like the difference between canned chicken and fresh roasted chicken. Hardly the same. Check out the post about how we got fresh Pie Cherries.

If you don't have a go-to pie crust recipe, try using the boxed pie crust mix from Krusteaz. It's really very surprising how good it is. I can't stand the premade crusts in the refrigerator section in the grocery store: they almost always come out like cardboard. Another really fun and delicious option is to use a good sugar cookie dough instead of pie crust. Crispy and tasty!

Cherry Pie (Adapted from Cook's Illustrated)

For the crust:
1 uncooked bottom pie crust
1 uncooked lattice top pie crust
3 Tbsp Pearl Sugar or Large Crystal Sugar

4-6 Cups fresh pie cherries, washed and pitted
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 1/2 Cups sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 Cup cornstarch or 1/8 Cup Tapioca Flour*
*Note - if using tapioca flour, increase the salt to 1 tsp

Mix the filling ingredients and let stand for 30 minutes. This will allow the cherries to weep and make a nice cherry syrup for the pie.

Pour the filling into the crust and weave the lattice on top.

Brush or spray the top lightly with water, and sprinkle the Large Crystal Sugar on top, making sure that as much as possible sticks to the lattice.

Bake at 400 for 30 minutes, then 350 for 30 minutes. If the crust is too brown 30 minutes in, cover it loosely with tin foil. If the crust isn't brown enough after an hour, turn the oven up to 425 for 10 minutes to brown the top crust. If you do this, be sure to check it every few minutes to make sure it doesn't burn.

For this one we used a mix of Montmorency and Thompcin cherries and cut down the sugar a bit as the Thompcins had a bit more natural sugar. But they gave the pie a gorgeous red syrup and a rich, lucious cherry flavor.

I love cherries and almond, but for other ideas, try substituting the almond extract with Vanilla extract + vanilla bean seeds, or Orange extract + Grated orange peel, or Orange Blossom Essence. Cherries + floral essence is crazy good but very unusual so it's not for everyone.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Summertime Stonefruit - Cherries!

Montmorency Cherries, Fresh off the Tree

Every year I do a big summer food project. For a few years it was fruit butters, then conserves (a delicious sweet jam made with nuts and dried fruit) and recently it's been pickles, dilly beans or pickled beets. This year I was at Fred Meyer and couldn't resist the $10 cherry pitter they had on sale and that decided that. Cherries it is! I snagged it and trundled off to find cherries.

But not just any cherries: pie cherries.

In our neck of the woods it's Bings and Rainiers that you find most often: sweet, plump and meant to be eaten out-of-hand, they're delicious fresh but pretty awful for cooking and lose their texture and flavor once heated.

Pie cherries on the other hand, are closely related to wild cherries and are small, firm and SOUR, SOUR, SOUR! Really sour. As in turn-your-face-inside-out sour. These are your best cooking cherries and (once sweetened) will turn out the best cherry pie you've ever had in your life. If you've never had a fresh sour cherry pie, go find one. It'll change your life.

You can't find pie cherries in stores. They're in season for about 2.5 seconds, bruise easily and spoil within 48 hours of picking. They're really difficult to keep pristine and perfect looking. Shoppers don't want to buy them so they're just not profitable for groceries.

But... if the cherries won't come to me then I shall go to the cherries. We made a cherry run to Naches, Washington to visit Thompson's Farm. I think I got a little excited when I saw the trees because I changed our original order of 40 lbs to 70 POUNDS OF CHERRIES. I don't know what I was thinking (except maybe, YUM!).

Montmorency on the Right, Mystery on the Left

Thompson's had two different cherry varieties: a bright red Montmorency, which is the traditional super-sour french pie cherry, and mystery variety (I do love a good mystery!) of unknown type or origin that has been on the farm for over a century. It's a black pie cherry - a gorgeous dark, dark red/burgundy, with dark flesh and juice. Area nurseries have tried to identify it and propagate for years without success so we were really fortunate to get some!

Cherries in tow, we headed back over the mountains and spent the next two days pitting and processing fruit. What do you do with 70 pounds of sour cherries, you're wondering? What DON'T you do? There's a ton of options, but I've posted my two favorites here:

Perfect Cherry Pie
Cherry Bounce

My $10 cherry pitter. It's brilliant.