Mixed Greens Blog

Mixed Greens Blog
Living Sustainably in the Pacific Northwest


When Life Gives You Sour Cherries . . .

. . make cherry pie.

Our Montmorency cherry tree is having its annual 15-minutes of fame. Loaded with bright pink and golden cherries, it glows festively and looks like it’s been decorated with a string of lights. Cherries are enticing and children sometimes find their hot pinkness irresistible, grab a couple and pop them straight into their mouths, then right back out again. They’re pretty but sour, and exactly right for pie. As American as apple pie, almost as patriotic, and they have serious attitude. I hope they vote.

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The first few years we had a productive yield we covered and then later uncovered the entire tree with a light net, trying to protect the fruit from critters. What a hassle. Then we discovered that creatures weren’t so enamored with a sour cherry either, at least not until the peak moment of ripeness when they become only slightly sweeter. We pick them right then. Some go straight into a pie, some into the freezer. When the cherry is ripe it turns bright pink and with a tiny squeeze slips right off its own pit, leaving it there on the tree along with the stem.

This repost from four seasons ago features traditional cherry pie and a new version from The Gourmet Cookbook, Sour Cherry Crostata, plus links to other Mixed Greens sour cherry recipes.

Traditional Sour Cherry Pie Recipe

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Pie dough recipe: Make your favorite pie dough. I used Alice Waters’ recipe from the Art of Simple Food: 12 T cold butter cut into small pieces (1½ cubes), 2 cups of flour, a pinch of salt and ½ cup, or less, of ice water. In a food processor, process butter, flour and salt until it’s crumbly. Add ice water a little at a time just until the dough comes together. Treat pastry dough gently – don’t overwork it. Pat it into two round discs and refrigerate for an hour and it’s ready to use. By hand in a bowl, same process just takes a little longer.

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Preparing the cherries: Combine six cups of pitted cherries  with 1 1/3 cups sugar, 3 tablespoons cornstarch and a pinch of salt. Joy of Cooking suggested adding a little water, lemon juice, and almond extract. I knew I would have a flavorful and juicy enough pie without those ingredients and besides I didn’t happen to have a lemon. Stir it all together and pour into the pie shell, dot with a few pieces of butter. Finish with a lattice top, a classic cherry pie treatment, or a regular top crust. I usually brush the top crust lightly with cream or half & half and then sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 425º, for 25 minutes on a low rack, reduce heat to 350º and cook approximately 30 minutes more. Crust becomes golden brown, you can see the juices bubbling and the aroma exudes essence of cherry pie. Let it bubble away for a few more minutes and then remove carefully from the oven.

Serve at room temperature or slightly warm.

Sour Cherry Crostata Recipe

Sour Cherry Crostata, supposedly Italian and with a shortbread crust, is over-the-top delicious. My husband discovered this recipe and it’s his thing. I’ve never made it, but happily indulge whenever he puts on his pie-making hat.

From The Gourmet Cookbook.

Ingredients for crust: 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter/ 1/3 C plus 1 T sugar/ 1 large egg, lightly beaten/ 1 t vanilla extract/ 2 1/4 C all purpose flour/ 1/2 t salt/ 2 t finely grated lemon zest.

Directions: Beat together butter and 1/3 C sugar at medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. This can also be prepared in a food processor, mixing for seconds at a time rather than minutes, though this first step is best accomplished, I think, in a mixer/ Reserve 1 T of the beaten egg and refrigerate for later/ Add remaining egg to batter, add vanilla and mix/ Reduce speed to low and mix in the dry ingredients and the zest until mixture has just formed a cohesive dough.

Cut the dough in half, form each into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for half an hour/ Preheat oven to 375 degrees/ Roll out one piece of dough and place in the bottom of a pie pan – it should hang over the edge all around/ Trim if necessary, leaving a 1/2 inch overhang and prick bottom several times with a fork/ Roll out remaining dough on a piece of wax paper or transfer to a piece of wax or parchment paper/ Place paper with pastry on a cookie sheet and cut into 10, 1-inch wide strips/ Refrigerate strips – on the cookie sheet –  for 5 more minutes/ Prepare pie filling as described in the recipe above/ Pour cherry filling into pastry lined pie pan/ Arrange 5 strips, one inch apart, across the filling, pressing ends into the edge of bottom pastry / Arrange remaining strips one inch apart diagonally across the first strips to form a diamond-shaped lattice/ Press strips into bottom crust, finish all around and trim/ Brush lattice with reserved beaten egg and sprinkle with remaining 1 T sugar.

You can place foil or a baking sheet beneath the pie for spillover. Bake until pastry is golden and filling is bubbling, about 1 hour/ If lattice edge becomes too brown cover loosely with foil and continue to bake until done/ Cool completely before serving.

And, there’s life beyond pie for sour cherries: juice, a cocktail, dried cherries, chutney, salsa, preserves, cherries jubilee (with ice cream). A few links to previous Mixed Greens cherry postings:  Cherries JubileePut A Cherry On Top (Maraschino and Pickled Cherries), Montmorency Cherry Joy (using Montmorency cherry juice), Gelati, Cherry & Chocolate.

And there seems to be a lot of buzz about the medicinal benefit of Montmorency juice for joint pain/disease. Not exactly endorsed by the FDA, yet, but worth checking out if you find the idea interesting

The Joy of Cooking provided direction for the traditional cherry pie making. It’s a great cookbook to have around.

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3 Responses »

  1. My mouth is watering looking at the cherries oozing out of your pie. Sweet and sour maraschino Montmerencies sound delicious. All the better if they’re self-pitting and don’t need help from a lemon.

  2. Love those sour cherries. So do the robins, tanagers, and Steller’s jays at the peak of ripeness, which is why a pitting party is a good way to work through a large haul in a single day, with the promise of pie looming at the end of the pitting tunnel. BTW, do you use a paperclip?

  3. A group foray into the cherry tree sounds like another good excuse for a party. The advantage to the Montmorency cherry is that if you pick it at the right moment, the pit slips off as you pick. Convenient.