I love pie. I love the whole idea of pie. I love watching movies with scenes that take place in diners where big guys come in and order a slice of pecan or meringue pie with a cup of joe. I love the idea of weird pies, like sour cream and raisin or gooseberry pie, and I’m sure we could easily get into an argument about why I think raisin pie is weird and you think it’s the most delectable thing on Country Junction’s menu. (Haven’t been there? It’s in Dyersville, and believe me, it’s worth the trip.)
I’m leery of other people’s cherry pies. Unless it’s made from scratch – and by that I do not mean pouring cans of that bilious red glop labeled Cherry Pie Filling into a premade crust – I’ll pass. If it has to come from a can, then start with a can of real, water packed sour cherries.
I’ve been using my mom’s recipe for decades, adding just enough almond extract to keep it interesting and cheating on the pie crust just as she did, because I never could get the hang of combining flour and fat with one of those manual pastry blenders. I’ve tried, I’ve failed, I’ve embraced Pillsbury All-Ready Pie Crusts. (Note to my vegetarian friends: Now you know! I’ve been feeding you lard! So sorry!)
Just the other day, I came upon a stunningly appealing recipe for Twice-Baked Sour Cherry Pie. It looked beautiful. It looked delicious. It looked like something I just had to make. All I was lacking was fresh sour cherries.
As luck would have it, my husband was playing music at the Fountain Park farmers’ market that afternoon. So I called and begged him to scout out sour cherries, along with the beets I wanted for borscht. As it turned out, there was no fruit at all. But fate was about to stage a wonderful intervention on me.
At noon, I went to work out, as I do every day at work, and my volunteer went to lunch. When I returned, I spied a big plastic pitcher on her desk. What was inside? A heap of bright red cherries. Be still, my heart – and besides, I wasn’t sure if they were sweet or sour. When she returned, I asked about them, as casually as I could. She replied, “They’re sour,” with obvious disappointment. I then told her the story of the recipe and my fear of never finding the fresh sour cherries I needed. She thrust the pitcher at me, declaring, “They’re yours!”
That night, my husband announced that he’d invited friends over for dinner the next day. Once I’d argued him down to eating dinner with them at Sweeney’s, with dessert at our house, I told him the story of the pie. We swung into action, with me pitting cherries for 45 minutes while he shopped for the missing ingredients – sweet butter, heavy cream, and all the rest – at Hy-Vee.
Then I got out the flour, two sticks of sweet butter and kosher salt and said to anyone within earshot, OMG, I have never made a pie crust from scratch in my life! What am I doing?
Evidently, what I was doing was making a pie crust from scratch, something that has always terrified me. But this food writer I was depending on, Melissa Clark of the New York Times, uses a food processor, bless her heart, and it worked like a charm. Magically, the flour and the fifteen tablespoons of butter combined with a little ice water into a smooth and workable mass which I chilled, rolled out, and gently eased into the pie pan: my Julia Child moment.
Oh, and then I had to line the whole thing with foil and weigh it down with “pie weights,” which I’ve never purchased. They are small metal balls, or oblongs, that serve to keep the dough from puckering. My brilliant idea was to go to the basement and bring up all the bright, shiny, never-used screws I could find. Worked like a charm.
Finally, I mixed the cherries with sugar and tapioca and put them into the fridge for morning. And prayed I hadn’t left a pit behind. I like our friends, and did not want to break their teeth.
The next morning, I got up a half-hour early, preheated the oven, took out the filling so it could come to room temperature, fed Leo (the cat), removed the remaining dough from the fridge, rolled it out, and cut out hearts and stars with my favorite old cookie cutters. (Melissa’s idea, not mine, but I found it charming.) Then I poured the filling into the bottom crust, and arranged the hearts and stars all over the top. I then brushed each one with heavy cream and sprinkled them with sugar.
Finally, it came time to pop it into the oven while I showered and got ready for work. I kept an eye on the pie while I had breakfast and made my lunch, got dressed, checked it again, put foil around the edges where it was browning too much, realized most pies bake at 425, not 375, raised the temp, and after about 10 more minutes, found it suitably browned all over. It then went on top of the fridge, where Leo could not get to it. (He’ll eat anything made of dough.)
Is there a moral to this story? I think there are several: Pie is good. It’s worth making an effort for your friends. Sometimes just what you need turns up just when you need it. And most of all – anyone, and I mean anyone, can make pie crust from scratch.