Much like the inner workings of a marriage, a good cherry pie is a bit mysterious to me, being both sweet and tart, if you know what I mean. I’ve never had much of a sweet toot (the only times I had candy growing up was once-in-a-blue-moon on summer vacations, when I got to buy a pack of Bubblicious, and on certain Sundays when my folks would reward good behavior in church with a pack of Lifesavers), so desserts aren’t really my thing. Santa Maria seems to have come out of childhood with a different set of expectations (her mom’s idea of dessert is a good pie; she keeps homemade ones in the freezer to this day), and she is in charge of the pie making in our house. Her cherry pie is a wonder to behold.
One thing makes her cherry pie special, and that is the cherries. This sounds like a tautology, but I can explain. The cherries are tart, and not sweet, and they are packed in water. These tart cherries are only slightly less hard to find around New York, it seems, than an affordable apartment. We once had a dinner party years ago, and asked some friends to bring some. They scoured the gourmet store Dean & Deluca, only to arrive with a pretty glass jar of something completely other than the vaunted tart cherry. We did without pie that night.
As hard as the tart cherries are to find, Santa Maria’s dad has a line on them. He picked up some from the Oregon Fruit Products Company at his local grocery store (and you can find them here, on the internet, too), and when we were down at their house for the holidays, Santa Maria made a cherry pie for him for his birthday. It’s his favorite.
Santa Maria’s Scrumptious Cherry Pie
- 2 cans tart cherries packed in water (15 oz. cans)
- juice of ½ lemon (fresh)
- ½ cup juice from cherries
- 2/3 cup sugar
- ¼ cup tapioca
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
For the 9” pie crust (for a top and bottom crust)
- 2 c. flour (pastry flour, without germ makes it more tender)
- 2/3 c. butter
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 4 Tablespoons ice water
Make pie crust this way:
Mix flour and salt. Add butter. Use a pastry cutter (or two knives) to cut butter into the flour, until the butter is the size of peas. Gradually add the water (1 T at a time) and mix gently with a fork until it gathers into a ball. Divide into two balls. You can gently press dough together with a piece of wax or parchment paper. Press down so that each ball forms a hockey puck like shape. Chill for an hour; roll out dough and place in a (preferably) glass pie pan. If you roll out the crust before the filling is ready, put them back in the fridge so that the butter lumps don’t melt. The little yellow blotches you see in your crust are pockets of butter and what make it flaky and delicate.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Drain cherries, reserve juice. Add lemon juice, reserved cherry juice, sugar, tapioca, and cinnamon to the cherries. Let sit 15 minutes (don’t skip this step or you’ll have little hard pebbles in your pie of the unsoftened tapioca). Pour into the crust. Place top crust on top and crimp the edges (this is fun! You can use your thumb and forefinger with a pinching motion, or use a fork).
Cut some air vents in the top crust to let out steam.
Sprinkle 1 teaspoon sugar on top.
Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and finish baking another 30 minutes. Ovens are rather temperamental and you should check to see that the crust is getting golden – a good reason to use a glass pan (though it’s fine to use aluminum or ceramic if that’s what you have on hand).
Notes: She says, “Even though I have a sweet tooth, I like my fruit pies on the tart side. If you don’t, you may want to use ¾-1 cup of sugar. It is imperative that you serve this pie hot from the oven (oh, let it sit 10 or 15 minutes) with a dainty dollop of vanilla ice cream.” Also: “I prefer using organic ingredients and I encourage you to do so as well if you can afford it.”
Additional Note: If you are scared of making a pie crust, Santa Maria says it will work fine with a commercially available pie crust. The filling is so good, that I would say it would be worth trying. Here's how it looks. Yum!