This is not about making the perfect pie. This is about trying something new, finding something delicious and planning for the future.
Last year, I had a blast picking away at my mom’s cherry tree. I soon realized – what the heck am I going to do with ALL of these beautiful cherries!
I honestly never expected to make a pie, or at least for 20 more years. But, after looking around in my parent’s house, I found some pre-made pie crusts in the fridge. I had always assumed pies were these tricky things best left up to grandmas, but the idea had been sparked. I wondered… So I googled how to make a cherry pie. To my amazement, there was a recipe that took very little ingredients, all of which we already had in the house! I thought, “Why not?!” A baking adventure!!!
I couldn’t believe how easy it was to make! Sugar, cornstarch and water/juice magically turn into amazing gel! It wasn’t a pretty pie, I didn’t research technique or take my time, but dang, in the eye of this beholder – it looked awesome! But, I couldn’t believe it when we tasted it! I loved the pie and so did all my family!
I felt so special making it start to finish and wanted to share the enjoyment… and the secret grandmas don’t want you to know… pies are not hard! Sure, some are difficult and can be made so decorated they are more art than pie, but there are many out there that are surprisingly simple and you just have to give them a try.
Since then, I’ve also tackled several others such as strawberry pie and my favorite, lemon meringue with the same great results from simple recipes. I’m not a baker and I don’t spend much time in the kitchen, I’d rather be outside, but this simple act of picking cherries really opened a new world and interest to me. Just like with hunting, fishing, gardening and farming, I was so proud and felt connected to the food. If you’ve never made a pie, I hope you’ll try this because you’ll surprise yourself! And it inspired me to plant my own tree for many years of cherry pies to come! Here’s how to do it!
Plant a Tree
Sweet cherries are the ones most often found in markets. However, it’s sour/tart cherries that are widely used for pies, preserves and other cooking uses. Common varieties for sour cherry trees include: ‘Early Richmond’ (early), ‘Montmorency’ (midseason) and ‘Meteor’ (late).
There are standard-size trees and dwarf trees as well as self-pollinating trees. If you do not have a self-pollinating tree, you’ll need at least two or three cherry trees so they can pollinate each other (make sure the varieties will work together). It is said a standard-size tree can start bearing fruit their fourth year, producing 30 to 50 quarts of cherries each year.
The tree we selected is a Montmorency SR Semi-Dwarf Cherry ($69.99 6.5gal) that is self-pollinating so you don’t have to have multiple trees. It blooms in the spring, and then produces large, red cherries that ripen around June 30. They are tart cherries perfect for pies and preserves. Since this is a semi-dwarf tree, it will grow to approximately 12 to 15 feet tall by 12 feet wide. Keep the roots moist until well-established, covering with three to four inches of mulch.
With a little tug, cherries pop off the stem on the tree so easy – then refrigerate them. However, they should be used or froze as soon as possible (no more than a week). Before baking or freezing, you’ll need to pit and rinse them first. If freezing, once pitted and rinsed, pat with a paper towel and place your desired amount in a freezer Ziploc storage bag. The quart size works well for the four cups needed for a pie.
Homemade Cherry Pie
4 C fresh or frozen tart cherries
1 to 1-1/2 C granulated sugar
4 T cornstarch
1/4 tsp. almond extract
Pastry for double-crust pie (9-inches)
Sprinkle of sugar
Place cherries in medium saucepan and place over medium heat. Cover. After the cherries lose considerable juice, which may take a few minutes, remove from heat. In a small bowl, mix sugar and cornstarch together (make sure to mix, if not, the cornstarch can clump in the next step). Pour this mixture into the hot cherries and mix well. Mix in the almond extract (if you do not have, you can go without the almond extract). Return mixture to the stove and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. The mixture will become cloudy and then turn into gel after boiling. Cook and stir gel for 2 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat and
let cool. If the filling is too thick, add a little water, too thin, add a little more cornstarch.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Place one crust in the bottom of an 8- to 9-inch pie pan. Trim bottom crust along pan edge. Pour cooled cherry mixture into the crust. Moisten the edge of the bottom crust. Place top crust over filling and wrap excess top crust under bottom crust edge. Press edges together to seal; flute. Cut slits in center of top crust for steam to escape. Sprinkle with sugar.
Bake for about 50 minutes, covering the crust edges loosely with strips of foil after the first 20 minutes (so the crust doesn’t harden/darken too much). Remove from oven and place on rack to cool. Let cool for at least one hour, if not a couple hours, before serving or the pie can be extremely runny. Enjoy! ~JP