Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Alice's Classic Cherry Pie

Pie! Oh, we love pie! 

That's the opening line of the poem "Pie" by Susan Bright, from her collection Tirades and Evidence of Grace, which I found more than twenty years ago when it was reprinted in the UTNE Reader. A yellowed copy still marks the Pies section of my recipe binder. (No spoilers here, but it also becomes an unexpected performance piece in BUTTER OFF DEAD, the third Food Lovers' Village Mystery, out July 7 and available for pre-order now!)

“If you want to learn how to bake a good cake,” my father told young me, “talk to your Aunt Peggy. But for pie, watch your mother.”

I’ve confessed before, I did not grow up in a foodie family. I will not confess our sins here, but they were many. The bright spot? My mother loved to bake, perhaps a remnant of her German farm ancestry or her fond memories of afternoons with her grandmother in the 1930s. Whatever the reason, she picked up a fondness for pie that I nurture still.

And who doesn't love pie?

Every year in my childhood, my mother made two cherry pies for the Winter Carnival held at the Catholic high school. One year, a certain five year old ate all the crust around the edge of a cherry pie. Said child did not get to go to the Carnival that year. She is still pouting.



And I still love cherry pie. (I helped my mother move recently and was pleased to see she’d replaced the old wooden rolling pin with the red handles that always fell out, though she kept it. I snared them both.)


An aside: I loved to bake with my mother for the ritual of it. Which included wearing aprons. When my father’s mother died and we went to St. Paul for the service and family gathering, one of my aunts took me into my grandmother’s bedroom and told me she’d left me a gift: a box of cherry Lifesavers and a plastic apron. If it hadn’t rotted years ago, I’d show you a picture; I know it sported cherries. (There were others in the drawer as well; I suspect each of my girl cousins got one!) No wonder Luci the Splash Artist in my Food Lovers Village Mysteries cherishes vintage aprons. 

When I told my mother I’d made her cherry pie for this post, she told me a story I did not recall. The Christmas I was four, we went back to Minnesota, where my parents were from, to visit, and stayed with my favorite aunt and uncle—my father’s sister Lois and her husband Pete, coincidentally the parents of mystery writer Laura Childs. Aunt Lois made a pie. She came out into the living room holding a can of pie filling—which did not have a picture of the fruit—and asked my mother, “Can that child read?” I hadn’t seen the pie, just the can. But reading matters. How else would I have known we were about to celebrate with cherry pie?

Now, I am not one of those cooks who never uses prepared products—canned pie filling, for example—but I see no reason not to make your own pie crust. It’s honestly not that difficult. (A neighbor who envied my mother’s pastry prowess complained that her dough ended up looking like Idaho. Nice for a state; a problem for a pie.) Make sure your dough is damp enough to hold together—here in semi-arid Montana, where flour can dry out a bit, that sometimes means adding extra liquid. The oil or butter makes a dough easy to work with—it responds to the heat of your hands. I like to roll the crust between sheets of waxed paper or parchment paper; you’re not actually rolling the dough, and it’s easy to flip it into the pie plate.

This recipe is also flexible. The Monday after Cherry Pie Sunday, we made a quiche. Why two pies in two days? Why not? I added fresh ground pepper and used half canola oil, half olive oil. And by golly, super fab.

“Easy as pie.”

Classic Cherry Pie with Alice’s Double Crust 

This is not your classic butter-and-ice-water crust, though to my mind, it’s a lot easier. But this week, we’re not talking “best I ever ate” or “best according to the experts;” we’re talking food, memory, love. And this is it.


In a medium bowl, mix:
2 cups white flour
        1-1/2 teaspoon salt

Pour into a glass measuring cup (hey–they always used glass back then, and it does have a visibility advantage):
½ cup oil
1/4 cold milk

Pour liquid ingredients all at once into the flour. Stir until mixed. Press into a smooth ball. Flatten and roll out between two sheets of waxed paper.




(For a single crust pie, use 1-1/2 cups white flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/3 cup oil, and 3 tablespoons cold milk.)

Traditional cherry pies are made with a lattice top, but it’s far from necessary.

Now, if I were making this my way, and the fruit stands on the east shore of Flathead Lake were open, I would use either fresh cherries or local fruit canned for pies. But it’s April as I write, and we’re talking the Mom Thing. So I’m doing as she would do and using canned fruit.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Make a double crust. Line an 8 or 9 inch pie plate with a crust. Pour in 3 cups of pie filling. Top with the second crust and seal. (That’s the cute pinch-y part that my mother had the patience for. I don’t. Your choice.) Since we’re not doing a fancy lattice, be sure to cut Xs or slashes to let the steam escape. Bake 50-55 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the bottom looks baked, too. (Another advantage to a glass pie plate.)


Cool as long as you can, then eat. Vanilla ice cream is a bonus. But remember: the first piece is ALWAYS a mess!


Much as I love cherry, and apple, my absolute favorite pie is rhubarb custard, a classic from the Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook. What’s your favorite?  


Leslie Budewitz is the only author to win Agatha Awards for both fiction and nonfiction—the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First Novel, for DEATH AL DENTE (Berkley Prime Crime), first in the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, and the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction, for BOOKS, CROOKS & COUNSELORS: HOW TO WRITE ACCURATELY ABOUT CRIMINAL LAW & COURTROOM PROCEDURE (Quill Driver Books). She lives in northwest Montana with her husband, a musician and doctor of natural medicine, and their cat Ruff, a cover model and avid bird-watcher. 

Coming in July 2015: BUTTER OFF DEAD, third in the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries! (Available for pre-order now, in all formats.)

Connect with her on her websiteon Facebook, or on Twitter. 

20 comments:

  1. The cherry pie looks delicious! My favorite is pecan pie.

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    1. Oh, pecan pie. If I'd thought for half a second longer, that would have gone on my list, too! And chocolate pecan pie, and bourbon pecan pie, and ...

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  2. Such wonderful memories! I'd take a piece of that pie for breakfast...

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    1. Me, too! After a few days away at Malice, the cupboards are a bit sparse...

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  3. You just baked my favorite, Leslie! Though blueberry and lemon meringue are right up there for me. Such lovely memories. Thanks for sharing. But now I want cherry pie!

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    1. Lemon meringue! Some day I'll tell you the story of lemon meringue and the home ec cooking class....

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  4. Cool pie! I think the double crust is really cool. My favorite pie is chocolate pecan!

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    1. Oh, my, you're all making me hungry! (Easily done)

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  5. My husband has his mother's recipe for pie crust and it's very similar to yours--rolled out between two sheets of wax paper! This looks soooo good!

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    1. And is it an oil crust? The waxed paper trick is what makes pie possible in this house!

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  6. That first slice may be a mess, but after all that work and waiting, it's the best! Thanks for sharing the wonderful memories of your childhood, Leslie, and that beautiful cherry pie!

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  7. After the first piece, it does firm up nicely! And messy food can taste just as good as tidy food, don't you think? If it's made with love...

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  8. Chocolate!! Fruit pie would be peach, I think. People always gave my dad apple pie, but cherry was his fave. My granny used to make grape pie. No one seems to have the recipe. It was my bro's fave. My mom loved butterscotch. My sis, blueberry. My dad's aunt always made blueberry for family things. Uncle C said the recipe started with aunt making him get up early and go and pick the blueberries. :) pmettert@yahoo.com

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    1. Grape pie??? Now THAT'S got the retro ring to it! Any MLKers have a recipe to share?

      I can see that first instruction: "Send your husband and children out to pick the berries."

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  9. libbydodd@comcast.netMay 5, 2015 at 1:30 PM

    My pie crust successes come and go. Rather like the tide!
    Uncooked blueberry, pecan/chocolate/bourbon, apple,...
    And then there are the savory ones.
    It is all good. Sorry, but no ruhbarb for me. You can have mine, ok?

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    1. Love the tide analogy, Libby! And thanks for the rhubarb. Time to go scouting among my neighbors for extra stalks...

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  10. Rhubarb custard is great. Can't say that I have a favorite pie. Maybe pot pie. That is what I have made the most of in the last years and I have made my own crust. Thanks for your post!

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    1. Pot pie -- now there's a retro fave! Love it, but somehow we never think to make it. Thanks for the reminder!

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  11. I'm fascinated, because I've never tried make no pastry with oil. Over here (England) I've only ever heard of using butter/lard. Must try it. I love your suggesting of greased paper for rolling! Thanks.

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  12. I use the Barefoot Contessas pie crust. Super easy because you make it in the food processer. I do add my mothers secret ingredient. I've never seen it anywhere else and I think it naked s huge difference. Vanilla.

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