The Joys of Cherry Season

“Ah!” I shrieked. My husband stomped on the brakes, wondering if we were about to hit something.

“Look!” I said. “The pie cherries are in!”

We were in Michigan, dropping our daughter off for camp, and were passing a roadside farm stand. There it was: “Pie Cherries, 99 cents a pound.” I was lucky; the season was running a bit earlier than usual.

The Michigan sour cherry season is brief, only a couple of weeks in July. Most of the sour cherries are sold to food processors to be canned, frozen and turned into ready-made baked goods. Those that are sold fresh are highly perishable. Because they’re meant to be cooked, pie cherries are softer than the standard sweet cherries like Bing, and deteriorate rapidly. You have to buy them, pit them, and use them within about 24 hours.

Toss in the facts that so few people make fruit pies from scratch these days and that pitting cherries by hand is tedious work, and it’s no surprise that fresh pie cherries are getting increasingly harder to find.

This year, they were well worth seeking out—the pie cherries I bought were outstanding, bursting with flavor. I ate plenty of them as is, and put the rest into my famous cherry pie, an eagerly awaited annual ritual in our family.

You can make this pie with frozen, thawed or canned cherries (unsweetened, not cherry pie filling), but fresh cherries are the best.

Rather make a cobbler? Check out my fresh cherry cobbler recipe.

Fresh Cherry Pie

Makes 6 to 8 servings

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into bits
1/2 cup chilled vegetable shortening, cut into bits
4 to 5 tablespoons ice water

5 cups pitted fresh sour (pie) cherries
2 1/2 tablespoons quick-cooking (fine-grained) tapioca, or cornstarch
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons Kirsch (cherry brandy) and/or 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Make the crust: Whisk together the flour and salt. Cut in the butter and shortening until well-blended; mixture should be coarse and mealy. Stir in enough water so that dough just comes together in a ball.

Press dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Divide dough into 2 parts, one slightly larger than the other. Roll out the larger portion on a lightly floured board or pastry cloth to a circle about 11 inches in diameter.

Drape dough over rolling pin and ease it into a 9-inch pie pan. Press the dough gently into the bottom of the pan and trim the edges. Refrigerate while you prepare the filling.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

To make the filling: Combine cherries and their juice (if using canned or frozen, thawed cherries, use 3/4 cup of the juice) with tapioca or cornstarch, sugar, and Kirsch and/or almond extract. Pour the cherries into the prepared pie shell.

Roll out the remaining pastry to 1/8-inch thickness. With a biscuit or cookie cutter or a knife, cut into rounds, strips, or other shapes (stars are nice). Arrange the cutouts in overlapping circles atop the cherry filling, or create a lattice crust with strips.

Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 35 to 45 minutes, or until the crust is browned and the filling is bubbly.

Serve slightly warm, with vanilla ice cream.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.