Deep red, bright red, or blotchy white, all cherries, no matter the color, are among my favorite fruits. Eating them fresh is a pleasure, but cooking with them is even better. Sour cherries, tart in taste but full in flavor, are particularly the best to use in cooking or baking. Europeans love cherries in soups or pastries, as side dishes, or made into syrups and liqueurs. Sour cherries come in two varieties, the dark morello, which is more common in Europe, and the bright amarelle, which is the predominant variety here in the States. I have looked for sour cherries for years, but have never been able to find them until I visited the Union Square Greenmarket for the first time some years ago. This past week I picked up four quarts and made jars and jars of brandied cherries, but also put some aside to make this pie.
It was hard and messy work creating a sour cherry lattice pie, but eating it slightly warm with a scoop of melting vanilla ice cream was beyond worth it. Some tips on preparing cherries for pie-making: When you get your cherries home, wash them well and remove their stems. Lay them out onto trays lined with paper towels. Once they are dry, pit them using a cherry pitter or, as I did, utilize a drinking straw, which works just as well as one of those super pitters. You and your kitchen will be covered in red spots, so make sure to wear an apron or clothing you don't care too much about.
When shopping for cherries, look for firm and unblemished fruit with their stems attached. Unfortunately this year lots of rain on the East Coast has made for some soft cherries. When using cherries purchased from the farmers' stand, double check the fruit, discarding any ones that are brown and have holes, which may indicate a worm inside. When pitting them, peak inside just to be sure. Since you will be eating the skin, try to buy organic cherries whenever possible. Conventional cherries have loads of pesticides on the surface.
Sour Cherry Pie
Note: Instead of cornstarch, this recipe calls for potato starch, which has a more neutral flavor and thickens the filling without causing cloudiness.
6 cups pitted sour cherries (2 quarts)
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup potato starch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
pie crust, recipe follows
1 tablespoon milk, for wash
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Roll out one disc of pie dough to about 12 inches to fit a 9-inch pie plate. Fit into the pie plate. Roll out the second disc and use a decorative pastry cutter to score 1-inch strips. Refrigerate pie plate and dough strips until ready to use.
In a large bowl, combine cherries, sugar, salt, starch, vanilla extract, and lemon juice and zest. Mix well.
Pour cherry mixture into dough-lined pie plate leaving some of the liquid on the bottom of the bowl. Spread cherries out evenly. Brush the dough strips with milk. Onto the pie, lay half the strips in one direction an inch apart. Fold up every other strip and weave in a new strip. Repeat until all the strips are woven to create the lattice design. Tuck and press the edges together securely. Cut off any overhanging strips. Crimp the edge of the pie using either your thumbs and forefingers or a fork. Place pie plate on a rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.
Bake pie for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 375 degrees F. and continue to bake for 1 to 1-1/4 hours. The crust should be golden brown and the filling bubbling. Cool completely before slicing and serving. Yield: 8 slices.
Note: For the perfect pie crust, the dough should clump when squeezed together. In humid weather 1/4 cup ice water should do, but in normal conditions, a 1/2 cup is needed. Still if it is too dry, add water, or if too moist, add flour.
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups white whole-wheat flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into small pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water
Combine flours, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Pulse to aerate instead of sifting.
Add butter and pulse for ten seconds or until mixture resembles course meal.
With the food processor running, stream in water. Process until the dough comes together.
Divide the dough into two parts and wrap in plastic wrap, forming discs. Chill for at least one hour before rolling.