filling the empty nest with food
One of my first memories of understanding irony came in the form of an American folk song my mother used to sing when I was a kid. The song is around 100 years old (or so) and called “Billy Boy.” In the song, Billy has returned from somewhere where’s he’s found a potential wife and he’s getting the third degree from someone (his mother?) about his intended.
The song’s theme has more complexity than a child can absorb, as I remember being puzzled by Billy’s repeated insistence that “She’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother” along with his admission at the end of the song that his “young” fiancee is “three times six and four times seven, twenty-eight and eleven.” (The math doesn’t add up, so I was never clear about just how old she was.) But, certainly she was no young thing. Except he kept saying that she was! It took until I was mature enough for the puzzlement over that contradiction to transform into an understanding of the humorous irony. Which was probably just before my then-feminist anger kicked in.
However, regardless of the matter of her age, Billy claims she can bake a cherry pie “quick as a cat can wink an eye,” so she might have made a good mate. (But, then, the puzzling started again as I wasn’t quite sure if that claim was a put-on too.) It clearly was a folk song that worked a child’s brain.
From today’s vantage point, I imagine back to the 19th century when you probably couldn’t get canned or frozen cherries from the grocery store. So I picture her whipping up a flaky pie crust in minutes, patting it evenly onto the pie plate, running out to pick the sweet ripe cherries from a tree out back, pitting them in a flash while simultaneously readying the juice to heat up and thicken. And producing a hot, juicy, cherry-rich pie with flaky crust that any of us would have gobbled up. And fallen in love with.
Even if you aren’t up to the speediness of Billy Boy’s love (and I hoped for his sake that claim was the unironic truth), a freshly-baked, hot-out-of-the-oven cherry pie is well worth the effort.
The recipe below includes a delicious combination of sweet dark cherries, tart red ones, plus some dried cherries to intensify the flavor. The full cherry flavor is topped with a rich buttery streusel whose secret ingredients are a few more cherries and a handful of roasted, salted almonds. Thanks to Shirley Corriher for the recipe.
Jerry Lee Lewis performs a rockin’ version of the 19th century folk song in which Billy gets transformed into a “cat” who’s the young thing and probably wouldn’t admit to being seduced by an over-the-hill bachelorette pulling out all the stops to seduce. This rendition is great fun, but, alas, he leaves out the cherry pie stanza.
Cherry Pie with Streusel Topping (adapted from BakeWise)
1 Pie Crust (use or make 1/2 this recipe)
¼ cup boiling water
⅓ cup dried cherries
¾ cup sugar, divided
¼ cup very fine vanilla wafer crumbs (I used shortbread cookie crumbs which worked fine.)
⅓ cup tapioca starch (or cornstarch) plus 1 tbsp cornstarch stirred into ¼ cup cool water
½ tsp salt
3 tbsp butter
1 tbsp corn syrup
½ tsp almond extract
One 15-ounce can pitted dark sweet cherries, drained and liquid reserved
One 15-ounce can pitted sour red cherries, drained and liquid reserved
½ cup salted almonds
½ cup canned cherries, well drained and chopped
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup light brown sugar, packed
1/8 tsp salt
½ cup butter, cut into ½-inch slices
In a food processor with the steel blade, process the almonds with a few quick pulses just to coarsely chop. Add the cherries to the processor. In a bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, and salt, the dump in the processor on top of the cherries. Add the butter and process with quick pulses just to blend the ingredients.