A huge bucket of hand-picked, tart cherries ended up on my kitchen counter recently, courtesy of my excellent mother-in-law and her backyard tree. "Look out," warned my husband (aka the cherry-picker). "They're sour, and they'll make your lips pucker." Tart cherries: What a great gift! I immediately thought of fresh cherry pie and grabbed a knife to pit the fruits.
My mother taught me how to make cherry pie more years ago than I care to admit. On the family farm, we'd make up a batch of pies for freezing whenever a particular fruit came into season — half a dozen strawberry-rhubarb pies one week, a dozen tart cherry pies the next, a baker's dozen of peach pies the following month, and so on, until we had over 50 homemade pastries put away for the upcoming year. You could say our family motto was "A pie for every week, with a taste of summer in every bite."
Mom and I didn't have time to fuss over the perfect pie crust, which is probably why our pastry turned out so well. The more you manipulate pie dough, the tougher it becomes. If you want to make a great pie crust, the trick is to roll out the dough quickly and efficiently. Depending on the conditions inside your kitchen, though, that can be a challenge — especially if you're not an experienced baker who knows how to make pie crust from scratch.
Many amateurs compensate for the common problem of dough sticking to the rolling pin by dumping too much flour onto the dough's surface — thereby rendering the crust mealy and tasteless. Whenever dough begins to stick for me, I dust my hands lightly with flour and run them over the roller; this avoids the infamous flour-dump and prevents too much of the white stuff from being worked into the dough. Another technique involves benign neglect: My husband covers fruit pies with uneven strips of dough that stick to the roller and tear off the main piece when he pulls up the pin. The resulting pie looks gnarly when it goes into the oven, but delicious when it comes out. The fruit juices bubble up and over the seams in the crust and make a great looking, rustic deep-dish pie. And, because the dough isn't over-handled, the crust bakes up flaky and tender.
Personally, though, I like my pies to look their best before going into the oven. The best way to learn how to make cherry pie involves plenty of practice, but don't let that intimidate you. Remember my husband and his dough strips, then roust out your rolling pin and give this fresh cherry pie recipe a try. The recipe is largely taken from The Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book (1976).
Yield: One 9-inch pie
4 cups tart cherries, stemmed and pitted
1 cup sugar
3 tbsp flour
1 tbsp brandy or liqueur
1 tsp grated lemon peel (optional)
Contents of 1 vanilla bean
Pinch of salt
2 tbsp butter, cut into 8 cubes
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup lard or butter/lard combo
4-6 tbsp cold water
1 egg white
Combine the filling ingredients and let rest for about 20 minutes while you make the crust. The filling will be flavorful and juicy: Don't drain it!
Make the crust by stirring the salt into the flour. Work in the lard (or butter/lard combination) with a fork until the mixture has a grainy texture, leaving small lumps about the size of peas. Drizzle the cold water, one tablespoon at a time, over a small area of the flour mixture and mix it in with a fork until the dough starts to hold together. Repeat this process in different places inside the bowl until you have clumps of dough. Don't worry if you haven't used up all the water, or that there are dry spots. Turn the flour mixture onto a counter and knead it only a few times until it forms a single piece of dough; add water if necessary, but only a few drops at a time, stopping when the dough forms a ball. Divide the dough into two pieces — one for the top crust and the other for the bottom.
Dust the counter with flour and roll out one piece of dough into a circle large enough to cover the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie dish. If you're worried about your rolling skills, first pat out the dough between your hands until it measures about 6 to 8 inches in diameter. (If the warmth from your hands has made the dough sticky, chill it in the refrigerator for a few minutes before rolling.) Place the circle on the counter and sprinkle the dough's surface lightly with flour. Roll the pin over the dough in alternating directions: up and down, side to side, and from different angles. Try to keep the pressure even with each stroke. About every two or three strokes, dust your hands lightly with flour and pass them over the roller surface to keep it from sticking to the dough. If the dough tears, dampen the torn edges with water and press them together — dusting the seam lightly with flour to keep it from sticking to the roller again. Use the pie dish as a guide and stop rolling when the circle is large enough to cover the dish's bottom and sides. Gently roll the edge of the dough over the pin to transfer it to the dish. If the dough sticks to the counter, use a thin spatula or scraper to loosen it.
Trim the dough to the edge of the pie dish, then spoon in the cherry filling and dot the surface with butter. Roll out the remaining piece of dough, placing it on top of the filling and trimming it to a half-inch past the dish's edge. Fold the edge of the top piece under the edge of the bottom piece, then flute it with your fingertips or a crimp it with the tines of a fork.
Wash the surface of the top crust and crimped edges with an egg white that's been lightly beaten with a fork. Sprinkle sugar on the top, and cut vent holes every few inches. Apply foil strips around the edges to prevent them from burning, and place your pie into a 375-degree-Fahrenheit oven. Bake for 40 minutes, then remove the foil edges and bake for 15 to 20 minutes longer until the crust is nicely browned. Cooling the pie before slicing allows the filling to set up, but you might prefer the juiciness of a slightly runny, fresh cherry pie with vanilla ice cream.
Rebecca Martin is an Associate Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, where her beats include DIY and Green Transportation. She's an avid cyclist and has never met a vegetable she didn't like. You can find her on Google+.