#24 : "Extremely Local" Cherry Pie
A pie that isn't the pits...
My connection to cherries goes way back. I remember making trips north from Livermore up to Brentwood (about an hour away) to go cherry-picking several times. I recall our family driving up with the Steinberg family a few times, the Andersons once or twice, and by ourselves. As a kid I found climbing a ladder and picking cherries (and popping many of them in my mouth right off the tree) great fun. Here's the odd thing - I don't remember what became of the cherries we picked; if we made pies or desserts with them that has escaped my mind. I know that no one ever used the fruit for a pie. Possibly we picked sweet cherries and just ate them plain?
When we moved to Greenport I started trying to grow cherries right away. I bought a few sour cherry trees that met unfortunate fates. The first pretty much died right away; I was never sure why. Then I bought two more, and planted them on either side of the driveway. A friend came to visit, and misjudged the distance when backing up, and ran over one of them. (She said, "I hadn't realized you had two cherry trees." My response: "Well, now I guess I only have one.") The third limped along and finally gave up the ghost, and I focused instead on buying sour cherries from Wickham's, a fruit farm in Cutchogue, about 15 minutes away.
Sour cherry season is very short, usually lasting only one week in July. I had to set aside a day or two for the operation of buying the cherries, pitting them, freezing them in single layer on a cookie sheet (to prevent them clumping together) and then transferring the frozen cherries to ziplock bags for further freezing.
Wickham's has a few cherry trees set aside for "pick your own," which can be fun though time-consuming. Once while I was up a ladder picking away, one of the owners came by with a gun, which he started shooting. It was likely blanks to scare away the birds that had discovered the cherries, but it scared me off as well.
Eventually we bought another cherry tree; Jeff and I found the perfect little tree that was shaped exactly like a kid's drawing: long skinny trunk and a perfectly round ball of leaves and planted it in the yard.
We were very unhappy to come out the next day and find half the leaves gone and much of the bark stripped off by deer; we assumed the tree was yet another goner. But, the tree persevered, and after a few years gave me a tiny handful of cherries. I was thrilled to augment the Wickham's cherries with some "extremely local" fruit. Over the last few years, the tree has grown wonderfully and has been generous in its bounty of fruit since 2021. This year I've gotten two good harvests; the first one is below. And there are still more cherries ripening on the tree!
The unseasonably cool weather made it easy to sit outside and pit the cherries. Note that I'm out on the deck (to avoid splattering the kitchen) and wearing my already stained "gardening/cherry pitting tee shirt" that I don for messy occasions. (You end up with cherry juice all over your clothes, hands and forearms.)
Once the cherries are pitted, it's time to begin the pie dough. Jeff came across a few different recipes, and I plan on trying them all, but I just made my usual pie dough this time around. Here I am adding a mix of vodka and water to the flour and butter.
I did try a new technique by Melissa Clark in the New York Times. She par-bakes the bottom crust first, then adds the cherry filling and tops that with circles of dough in a whimsical pattern.
I liked that idea, which would help keep the bottom crust crispy, without getting soggy as can be the case with fruit pies.
The circles of dough were a little free-form for me, but I remembered that I had star-shaped cookie cutters, in a few sizes, that I thought might work.
Following the recipe, I lightly brushed the stars with a little cream for browning, and scattered some turbinado sugar over the pie before baking.
The Verdict: "Thank you, little tree!"
This was another home run. The pie certainly looked terrific (sorry, Melissa, but the stars look better) and tasted divine, with a crunchy crust and just enough sugar to let the cherries shine (I cut the sugar back from a full cup to 3/4 cup which seemed exactly right.)
I still have at least four pounds of cherries from the first harvest (as well as some cherries from last year in the freezer) so I know there will be a variation on the pie in the near future...plus very likely some sour cherry ice cream....all from my brave little tree that wouldn't quit.