I planted a very specific variety of cherry tree just so I could make two things: a Greek cherry brandy, and honest-to-goodness old fashioned cherry pie. I guess I’m a serious do-it-yourselfer.
The only type of cherry that will do for either of those is a sour cherry. And yes, as the name implies, they are sour. In fact, they taste pretty awful! But add some sugar, maybe some spices, and they turn in to the most flavorful treat. Sandwich them between layers of flaky, buttery pie crust and it’s even better!
Sweet cherries do make for a good pie, too, but the flavor is very different and of course, sweeter. However, for that classic cherry pie taste, you’ll want the sour cherries. Chances are good that you won’t find them fresh in a regular grocery store, but you might find fresh-frozen cherries, or possibly fresh ones at a farmer’s market. Otherwise, canned cherries are usually easy to find and will work fine. Make sure that you are getting just sour cherries, not cherry pie filling.
Classic Cherry Pie Recipe
4 cups sour or tart cherries, pitted, all juices saved
1 1/4 – 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. almond extract
4 Tbsp. corn starch
1 recipe Perfect Pie Dough
If you are starting with fresh cherries, you will need to pit them. It is a tedious task, but worth it for the flavor. I have found the best way is to set them in the pitter where the seed will be pushed out the stem end of the cherry. This way, no flesh sticks to the pit. You can also use a skewer or toothpick if you don’t have a pitter, but it takes a little longer. Also, be sure to check them over, even the canned or frozen ones, to avoid missed pits as they can hurt any teeth that chomp down on them! Work over a tray to catch the juices so that you can strain them for the filling.
Prepare the pie dough and wrap in plastic. Set the dough in the refrigerator to rest and chill. This allows for the moisture to be better absorbed for easier rolling, as well as to harden the butter so it won’t just melt out of the dough in the oven.
Preheat the oven to 450 F. Put the cherries in a bowl with any juices that were strained out from the pits. Add the sugar and almond extract and mix gently until thoroughly combined. If your cherries are very tart, you will likely want the higher amount of sugar. If you are starting with frozen cherries, mix in the sugar and extract while they are frozen, but allow them to defrost somewhat before putting them in the pie.
Scoop out some of the juices that form and put them in a small bowl. Add the cornstarch and mix in thoroughly. Pour the liquid back into the cherries and gently mix again until combined.
Roll out the bottom layer of pie dough and line a 9 inch pie dish with it so that the dough hangs over the edge by about an inch. Mix the cherries again, and then carefully pour the cherries and liquid into the pie dough. Do not go over the height of the dish or you will have a very messy oven! Roll out the top portion of the dough. If you want to cut out any decorative patterns, now is the time to do it. I just cut circles this time using the end of a tube from a turkey baster! If you don’t cut out any patterns, after you place the crust on top, you will still need to cut some slits in the crust to allow the steam to escape to keep the crust from getting soggy and to help prevent the filling from spilling over.
Be sure to crimp the edges of your pie crust, then place the pie pan in the oven. You may want to set your pie on an oven safe baking sheet in case the filling spills out. Be sure to use a smaller one to prevent the heat from being blocked from the pie. Bake at the 450 F temperature for 10 minutes, then drop the temperature down to 350 F. Continue to bake for another 40 minutes or until the juices are really bubbling in the center and the crust is browned. If the crust appears to be getting too dark but the juices aren’t heated enough, yet, just set a sheet of aluminum foil that is the same width as the pan over the top of the pie. Do not crimp it down, just set it lightly on top. This will deflect the heat from burning the top of the pie while still allowing the filling to continue to cook. Pies made with frozen cherries may need more time to properly cook the filling, about 10 minutes or more.
Once the pie is done, remove it from the oven and place on a cooling rack until cooled to room temperature. Depending on how much moisture your cherries had, your pie filling might be more runny or more firm. It will thicken as it cools, too. If you decide to heat the pie before serving, the filling will soften a little. This pie tastes great with a side of ice cream, by the way! Enjoy!