Monday, August 15, 2016
Can She Make a Cherry Pie?
I was lucky enough to grow up in southwestern Michigan - just twenty minutes from The Lake (Lake Michigan for those of you who don't know) - an area that is known for it's fruit production. Our summers were marked by standing over a steaming sink and peeling peaches, our falls celebrated with apple picking and hay rides. My friends and I would go on long bike rides where grapes, hot in the sun, would make the hills smell like juice.
South Carolina has it's own selection of fruits and veggies (okra, anyone?), but Michigan fruit still tastes sweetest to me.
If I'm lucky enough for my parents to visit in late July, they bring me tart cherries. Seventy-five percent of the sour cherries in the United States are grown in Michigan. They are very fragile and have to be sold or preserved (frozen or otherwise) within 24 hours of being picked. Think of the challenge of that versus growing apples that have a shelf life of over six months! They are also sensitive to weather. In 2012, an early spring followed by a frost destroyed 97% of the cherry crop.
Another reason they are hard to get is that a Cherry Industry Administrative Board (CIAB) regulates how many processed tart cherries can be sold out of Michigan. This year some cherry farmers had to destroy up to 30% of their cherry production because the processors couldn't accept them. One farmer posted a picture of the rotting fruit on Facebook to show people the waste. You can read more about it in at Modern Farmer here and at Huffington Post here.
The reason for the mandated production regulations are multi-layered and too complicated for me to get into here, but it is important to note that the CIAB is regulating the supply in order to also control the demand. With articles like this from Livestrong outlining the multiple heath benefits of sour cherries, there is an increased interest in cherry juice and other tart cherry products. But when 97% of your product could be destroyed by an early spring, there is no way to keep up with that increased popularity. Therefore, product supply must be regulated and the prices must be kept up. All of this with no benefit to the farmer whatsoever.
If consumers knew more about how food is grown and the limitations of farms (maybe you can't get cherry juice every year or in January), we would have better farm practices and better food. Just another reason to buy seasonally and to buy directly from farms when possible.
Lucky for me, my mom brought me a generous load of sour cherries, and we made most of it into cherry preserves from, you guessed it, Canning for a New Generation. But I saved four cups to make into cherry pie. It had been six (SIX!) years since I had eaten my last tart cherry pie, and I hoarded those cherries until the right time.
Dinner with our amazing friend Rachel and Jake four weeks later was deemed a worthy occasion (I'm not a very good hoarder).
This turned out to be a great idea, because Rachel was there to shoot photos - something she is quite good at.
The recipe comes from the Berrien County Youth Fair cookbook. This pie won champion three years in a row. I have been making this pie crust for twenty years (give or take), and it has never failed me. It makes four pie crusts which freeze really well. I just wrap them in wax paper and stick in a freezer bag. They thaw out quickly and are great to have on hand for chicken pot pie or an unexpected craving for Shoo-Fly pie. It also adapts well to being generously dusted with flour - which is helpful because I'm not exactly the best pie crust roller-outer.
If you don't have access to tart cherries where you live, most grocery stores sell them in the freezer section with fruit. Or even better - fill the pie crust with whatever fruit filling is growing in abundance near you!
Mom's No Fail Pie Crust
adapted from Jody Anderson
4 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups butter, cut into squares
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 tsp vinegar
Mix flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Cut in butter with two forks or a pastry cutter until pea-sized crumbs form. In a measuring cup mix egg, vinegar, and enough cold water to make half a cup. Add to flour mixture. Stir to make dough. Makes four 9-inch crusts.
Adapted from Jody and Hannah Anderson
4 cups of cherry, drained, reserve juice
1 1/2 cup of sugar
3 1/2 Tablespoon tapioca pearls
1/8 cup reserved cherry juice
1 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and let sit for fifteen minutes. Fill a prepared pie plate, top with pie crust. Cut slits in top pie crust to let the steam out. Bake at 375 until the filling is bubbling and the crust is golden brown (about 50 minutes). Let cool completely before eating.
A note about fruit pies: whether you use cornstarch or tapioca as a thickener, always cook it until the mixture boils/bubbles and do not eat it until it completely cools. Otherwise, it won't set. I prefer tapioca to cornstarch the thickener as I think it gives it a more pure fruit flavor.
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