Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?
A very young Burl Ives in Disney movie So Dear To My Heart sings “Billie Boy.”
Can she bake a cherry pie? Finally, I can answer yes. After all, I started baking and cooking when I was a young girl, so after 70 years in the kitchen, you’d think I’d learn something. It took a combination of lessons to make this winning pie.
For many years, a cherry pie–the kind my mother always made to celebrate Washington’s birthday– meant opening a can of cherry pie filling and dumping it into a pie pan lined with pastry, then covering it with another layer of pastry. I’m sure my grandmother and her mother and grandmother made use of the red sour cherries that grew in profusion in Holmes County, Ohio, but mother was a working woman and although she always made her pie crust from scratch, she took the modern canned short cut for the filling.
I hasten to say that I don’t usually brag on myself, as “it ain’t fittin’.” But my latest version of fresh cherry pie from scratch definitely qualifies as the perfect pie.
Although I was the only one in the kitchen, I definitely did not do it all by myself–as you will see.
The Pie Crust
Of course, I use the “Perfect Pie Crust” Recipe. This post explains how many people helped me (some posthumously) to make a pie crust for the cherry pie. My Grandmother and Grandfather Anderson, my mother, and my brother’s mother-in-law all played a part.
Then, from somewhere, probably the King Arthur Flour website, I learned that putting a single crust in the refrigerator before filling and baking will help prevent shrinkage. I hesitate to tell you how many single crusts I have tossed because they wound up only covering part of the pan.
From the Mennonite cookbook from Kidron Ohio–where my husband’s ancestors settled– I developed a love of streusel-topped desserts, so a twist on the normal streusel replaces the top crust of this pie. My thanks to Chef John at All Recipes for the suggestion of putting almonds in the topping. I used flaked instead of slivered, and I liked the texture. I also changed a few other things in his recipe, so compare the two before you decide which suits you.
Although brown sugar is suggested in Chef John’s recipe, and is standard in the Mennonite cookbook for streusel, I thought it might not be the best flavor fit in a sweet cherry pie, so I used white sugar. I believe that is the better choice.
The big black Bing cherries that we in the West get from Washington State and Oregon State in mid summer, need very little sugar in comparison to the more standard sour pie cherries. So taste your cherries and decide. There is so much flavor in this recipe, that I suggest using less sugar than you think you need, so that nothing distracts from the cherry flavor.
The extra flavor kick? In comparing various recipes on line, I discovered this genius idea on The Spruce Eats site–add candied or crystallized ginger to your cherry pie filling. Just as almonds are supremely compatible with cherries, so is ginger.
The Spruce Eats site differs from other recipes in that they use instant tapioca instead of cornstarch as a thickener. I already am sold on instant tapioca as a thickener, thanks to that Mennonite cookbook, and my late mother-in-law. To me, cornstarch has a bit of taste that interferes with the main ingredients, and I just don’t like the texture.
And when that luscious cherry pie is baked–be sure to serve it with vanilla ice cream.
I hope that when Billie comes to call, you will be able to tell him “Yes, I can bake a cherry pie, quicker than a cat can wink its eye.” (Or in the version I learned, “in the twinkling of an eye.”)