One of my most favorite things about food, are the memories that inexplicably attach themselves to it. In the same way the classic 1998 hit maker Brandy CD Never Say Never transports me back to that family summer vacation in OBX (The boy is miiiine), taking a bite of food that has made an impact on you can instantaneously teleport you back to that moment in time. In my last post, I talked about something I never even was able to have as a kid (a cocktail my parents would make in the summer), but the memory tied to it is long-lasting. A permanent piece of the Reba-Puzzle. Everyone has them. For my husband Chris, it’s sour cherry pie.
As a kid, my family didn’t eat too many fruit based desserts. It was all chocolate cake, cinnamon coffee cake, or chocolate chip cookies. Occasionally we would have strawberry shortcake but that was about it. We actually had a sour cherry tree at my house growing up, but we never ate the cherries. We just sort of looked at them as rotten little sour blobs that would attract bees and make the ground beneath the tree a sticky mess. Our neighbor would actually come over with a ladder once a year (until we pulled a George W and chopped it down!) and pick the cherries for themselves. Never sharing! Thanks a lot Bob.
In huge contrast to that, in Chris’ family, cherry pie is practically a religion. At my in-laws house, there are two roughly twenty-five year old enormous Montmorency Cherry trees. Every year, Chris and his four siblings would be tasked with picking, stemming, pitting, and freezing the cherries off the trees. Most of these cherries would eventually find themselves inside a pie crust. Pie at Thanksgiving (duh, usually like 4 of them), pie at Christmas, fresh unfrozen cherries made into pies in the summer time right after picking.
I’ll never forget at my bridal shower, faced with the enormity of joining a giant Catholic family (Chris’ parents are each one of 7 kids) –aunts and cousins packed into a small room staring at me as I opened gifts — I received more pie plates, pie recipes, and pie gadgets than I could ever envision myself using. At the time I didn’t even really eat pie outside of a piece of pumpkin literally covered in whipped cream at Thanksgiving. I was firmly on TEAM CAKE.
Over the years, faced with Chris’ love for his mother’s pie– and only her pie–I tried in vain to make my own that he would love. I tried all different variations. I made “fancy” sour cherry pies. I made sweet cherry pies attempted to disguise as sour. I tried different thickeners, and no almond extract. Eventually I just gave up and made the original recipe straight off of his mom’s recipe card. It was his favorite, of course.
The recipe for this cherry pie came straight from my mother in law’s home cookbook. It’s one of those no-fuss church-recipe-book recipes. Her method (which I’ve adapted slightly) was just cooking the cherries, sugar and thickener in the microwave until thick! Plop it into a pie crust and bake until bubbling. Success every time.
Sadly, my mother in law passed away last September, but we are lucky that part of her lives on in this pie. A little time-machine slice of childhood, of mom at the stove, of picking cherries in the hot summer sun, and pie at the holidays. All in one bite! Who said time travel isn’t real?
“Mom’s Cherry Pie”
Makes 1 9-inch double crusted cherry pie
1 Double Crust Pie recipe: I have yet to figure out a pie crust method that I want to call my own, so until that day comes, I’ll point you to America’s Test Kitchen’s Foolproof Pie Dough or Martha’s Perfect Pie Crust
4 C (approx 1 lb-ish) of red sour cherries
2 C granulated sugar
1/2 C All Purpose Flour
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 egg + 1 tsp water, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp turbinado sugar
For the filling: Combine cherries and sugar in a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat. Cook until the cherries release their juice and the sugar is dissolved. Sprinkle the flour over the top and continue to cook while pie filling thickens. The mixture will clear up slightly and if you drag a wooden spoon or spatula across the bottom of the pan, a trail should appear (and be filled in almost immediately). Once pie filling is thickened, transfer to medium-sized bowl.
In bowl, add almond and ground cinnamon and stir well to combine. Place pie filling in the fridge to cool*, stirring every 10 minutes or so to bring the temperature down to room temperature or cooler.
I like to cool down the filling so that when you attempt to lay the top crust down, in lattice fashion or not, the hot filling doesn’t immediately soften the dough you worked so hard to keep chilled. Also you can make the pie filling way ahead of time and just plop it into a crust when its ready!
Roll out the bottom crust and place in pie pan. Take the cooled filling and carefully pour into pie shell. Take the top crust, and fashion it to your liking on top, lattice or not. Don’t forget to cut slits in the top if you are not making a lattice top.
With a pastry brush, brush the beaten egg wash mixture over the entire top of the pie. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Place the assembled pie in the freezer for 15 minutes.
Set the oven rack on the very bottom and put an aluminum foil lined sheet pan on the rack. Preheat oven to 425F (if you timed it out just right, stick the pie in the freezer for as long as it takes for your oven to preheat).
Place chilled pie on preheated baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes or until nicely golden brown and the filling is bubbling.
Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature before serving. Serve with vanilla ice cream. Obviously.