filling the empty nest with food

Can You Bake A Cherry Pie?

IMG_0491One 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

 cup dried cherries

¾ cup sugar, divided

¼ cup very fine vanilla wafer crumbs (I used shortbread cookie crumbs which worked fine.)

 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

  1. Pour the boiling water over the dried cherries and add ¼ cup of the sugar.  Stir and allow to stand for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Roll out piecrust dough into a 13-inch circle.  Fold the dough circle in half, then fold in half again to form a quarter of a circle.  Spray a 9-inch heavy aluminum pie pan with nonstick cooking spray.  Sprinkle the vanilla wafer crumbs evenly over the bottom only of the pan.  Place the point of the dough in the center of the pan and unfold halfway.  Check to see if the overhang is about the same on both sides and the back.  If not, gently move the crust so that it’s centered, then unfold all the way.  Starting in the center, gently press the dough with your fingers into the crumbs all across the bottom.  Allow to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes, and then freeze until needed.
  3. Arrange a shelf in the lower third of the oven, place a baking stone on it, and preheat the oven for at least 30 minutes to 450°.
  4. Place 1 cup of the reserved cherry juices and the dried cherry mixture in a heavy saucepan over low heat. Add ¼ cup of the sugar.  Bring to a boil and reduce to about 1 cup.
  5. With constant stirring using a flat-end wooden spatula, drizzle in the starch-and-water mixture and bring back to a simmer.  This liquid should be almost a stiff paste.  Bring back to a boil.
  6. Keep stirring the thick mixture on the heat and add the remaining ¼ cup sugar and the salt.  Cook, stirring steadily, for one minute.  The mixture will thin a little when you add the sugar.  It is important to bring this mixture back to a good boil.  Keep scraping the bottom to prevent burning.
  7. Stir in the butter, corn syrup, and almond extract.  Pour this hot mixture into a bowl.  Carefully stir in the drained canned cherries.  Fold carefully with a spatula until all of the fruit is coated.  Allow to cool for about 30 minutes.  Do not refrigerate. Spoon filling into the prepared crust.
  8. Sprinkle heavily with all of the Streusel Topping.
  9. Bake on the stone for about 25 minutes, until the topping is browned and the filling is hot.  Allow to cool 2 hours before serving.  (I didn’t have a heavy aluminum pie plate and used a glass one.  So to be on the safe side, I put the baking stone on the lowest oven shelf and put the pie plate on a shelf just above it.  Don’t know if the effect was the same, but my pie turned out delicious anyway.)

Streusel Topping

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.

2 comments on “Can You Bake A Cherry Pie?

  1. KellyJo
    March 1, 2013

    It’s amazing how many different cherry pie recipes their are. My grandfather used to own a cherry farm and every summer I remember a huge book my grandmother had that was filled with dozens of different cherry pie recipes. We made five or six different pie recipes and taste tested them with my grandfather. Here is another pie recipe at Will make this one next week for her 96th birthday.

    • Catherine
      March 4, 2013

      Thanks so much for the recipe. It looks simple and delicious. Wow, it sounds wonderful to have grown up near cherries and to have the good fortune to have eaten so many cherry pies. I suppose you either love them or can’t eat another one.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on February 9, 2013 by in Desserts, Recipes and tagged , , , , .

Join 95 other followers

Follow thebutterchronicles on


%d bloggers like this: