Living in western Washington state (as I did in my late teens), there are certain things that one begins to take for granted. Yes, the weather will be oppressive for fully three-quarters of the year. Yes, you’re living under the ever-present threat of volcano eruptions. Yes, the coffee is ubiquitous and awesome. Ditto the beer. (They’re called coping mechanisms.) Yes, the seafood department will be larger and better-stocked than the meat department. (This is awesome.) But by far, one of the best things that you start to take for granted around there is the summer fruit.
I have memories of midnight runs, galloping past strawberry fields that I couldn’t see, but could smell. I have memories of picking up flats upon flats of freshly-picked berries from local farms on my way home from swim practice. And yes, I have memories of the splat-pattern they made on the dash and windshield when I had to slam on the brakes. But perhaps most of all, I remember the pies: oh, the pies. Blueberry & raspberry, strawberry, and of course, my favorite: bing cherry.
It’s something I wait for all year. Around May, the too-red bings start showing up in the grocery stores. Mister Om-Nom Sauce — whose absolute favorite fruit is the cherry — starts badgering me then to buy them. But he doesn’t understand (or, more likely, care). He’s never lived in the Pacific northwest and he doesn’t know that the proper color of a bing cherry is black. These will eventually trickle in to the produce departments, but not until June (or even July), and which point I pounce. I buy pounds and pounds of them, eating them until my fingers are stained black, fighting off Mister Om-Nom Sauce so that I too can get my fill. And I also have to zealously guard the extra cherries I buy for the fresh cherry pie I will make. Look, people, I only make two (sweet) pies a year (pumpkin for Thanksgiving is the other), so this is like the main event of summer in my kitchen.
But now we live in Ohio, far far away from the Pacific northwest — farther, in fact, than I’ve lived since, well, before I moved there at 15 — and I’m starting to fret, for it is three-quarters of the way through June and there are no cherries in the grocery stores. I had initially been wondering what the heck I was going to do about the crust since butter is currently grasa non grata for me and an all-lard crust is so delicate that a lattice would be impossible (I’ve since solved this problem; see the variations section at the end of the recipe for details if you need ’em). But now I find myself with an even worse conundrum of no cherries!
I have found a modicum of solace at the local farmers’ market though: a local vendor was selling sour pie-cherries, so I promptly bought up a pie’s worth. It’s not quite the same as a bing pie, but it’ll do until the good stuff makes its way to Ohio.
I will post this nonetheless though, because surely there are those out there with a happy surfeit of bings who are looking for a recipe. I offer up photos from pies past which are doing nothing to slake my desire of this pastry and am only now beginning to understand that last summer, when I made two pies simultaneously (which required being on my feet for hours, making crusts and pitting fruit) despite being seven months pregnant, that it was a really good idea to make all those pies because the extra tastes I enjoyed then are likely to have to last me through a sadly cherry-less (and thus cheer-less) summer.
Fresh Bing Cherry Pie
From the 1997 edition of Joy of Cooking
- The amount of sugar and cornstarch/tapioca will vary with the quality of your fruit. If you have very sweet, juicy, dark bings, you may want to use even less than 3/4 cup and use a little more thickener; vice-versa for less-ripe, less-sweet cherries.
- There are lots of ways to make a lattice crust. This is my favorite method (skip ahead to two minutes to get to the pertinent part).
- Once you’ve added the sugar to the cherries, proceed with the recipe and don’t waste time. The longer the cherries sit in the sugar, the more juice will be extracted, leaving you with a runny and less-flavorful pie.
- Save extra dough scraps and make sugar-daddies! Arrange them on a baking sheet, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar, and bake until golden brown in a 350F oven.
- Want to make the crust dairy-free? See variations below.
You will need:
For the crust:
- 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (12 1/2 ounces)
- 1 teaspoon table salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut into 1/4-inch slices
- 1/2 cup chilled lard or solid vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
- 1/4 cup vodka, cold
- 1/4 cup cold water
For the filling:
- 5 cups of pitted ripe bing cherries (2 to 2 1/2 pounds)
- 3/4 cup (5.25 ounces) sugar
- 3 to 3 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch or instant tapioca
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoons strained fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
- 2-3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pices
- Make the crust: process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogenous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour). Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.
- Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.
- Once the dough has chilled, roll one of the dough-disks into a 13-inch round and fit it into a 9-inch deep-dish pie dish. Trim the overhanging dough to 3/4-inch all around. Refrigerate.
- Position a rack in the lower-third of the oven. Pre-heat to 425F.
- Make the filling: combine the cherries, sugar, cornstarch, water, lemon juice, and almond extract in a bowl and let stand for 15 minutes.
- Remove the pie dish from the fridge and pour the cherry mixture in, making the top as level as possible. Dot the top with the butter. Brush the over-hanging edge of the bottom crust with cold water.
- Cover and bake the pie: roll the second dough-disk into a 12-inch round and proceed to cut it into strips and form a lattice crust, if desired (see the notes section for a link to an instructional video). If you just want to cover the pie with the whole sheet of pie dough and cut vents, that’s ok too. Seal the edges of the two crusts, trim, and crimp or flute. If using a closed-top crust, cut five steam vents.
- Bake the pie for 30 minutes. Slip a baking sheet beneath it, reduce the oven temperature to 350F, and bake until thick juices bubble through the top crust, 25-35 minutes more.
- Let cool completely on a wire rack before serving. Store at room temperature for up to 1 day or in the fridge for up to a week.
- Want to make this dairy-free?
- For the filling, omit the butter.
- For the crust: use 10 tablespoons refined coconut oil plus 2 tablespoons cold water in place of the butter. This oil doesn’t taste like coconut so you don’t have to worry about it affecting flavor but is hard enough that your dough will be workable (unlike an all-lard crust). You use the extra water to mimic the fact that butter is approximately 80% butterfat and 20% water, which will help your crust form layers.
- To make: combine the coconut oil and 2 tablespoons water in a food processor. Process until the two are emulsified together, leaving behind a very soft coconut oil. Transfer the mixture to a small plate and chill for a few minutes until it is hard. Then proceed with the recipe — there’s no need to clean out the food-processor work-bowl.
- This crust lacks the proteins that butter has that contribute to the golden-brown color, so before baking, lightly brush the crust with an egg wash and sprinkle with coarse sugar to give the crust some color.
- To use sour cherries instead of bings: up the sugar to 1 1/4 cup.