A Very Cherry Tradition

Caroline Leahy
ENG230 Final Food Essay
cherry tree

In the Leahy household, seasons revolve around their own types of smell. For example, fall holds a strong role of cinnamons, apples, and spiced pumpkins. The winter fills our kitchen with the aroma of chicken noodle soup as my father puts in hours chopping vegetables. The spring takes on a fresh baked-goods scent and flowers as the sun makes its way back into the weather reports. The thing is, food brings back memories. Summer may be the greatest nostalgic scent of them all: June is the month of cherries.

I blame my intense sweet tooth on my grandmother. Baking should be her middle name. Ever since I can remember, she has always had a thing for cherries – and an even bigger thing for picking them herself. Out of all the tiny fruits to choose from within the berry family, she insisted that these are the best to make pies from. The woman is smart, for blueberries would take years to pick enough, and are not nearly as sweet as cherries.

Every year in the early days of June, all of the cousins come together from all around the state, and spend an early morning filling sacks with handfuls of fresh cherries. If one has never been to a cherry-tree orchard, let’s just say they are massive and beautiful. Once at arrival, we all set out through the countless rows of trees and begin picking – our burlap sacs quickly becoming filled (and becoming very heavy). Trees bare cherries in bundles, so the sacks fill up rather easily. However, the key is to pick fruits that are hard in texture (only cheaters go for the soft cherries – they are the most abundant in the summer sun but the hard ones provide the most flavor). It’s not difficult to understand just how many bundles to pick, for once when I asked my grandmother how she seems to always know the perfect amount to pick before stopping, she simply said: “Oh Caroline, you just keep picking until you can’t pick anymore!”. The woman was right. And anyways, the more cherries the better.  By the end of the morning, with pounds of cherries, slightly sunburnt cheeks, and stained finger tips, we head back to my grandma’s house to continue the tradition.

The thing with cherries that sets them apart from other berries is the huge pit they contain in the middle. No one likes a pie filled with cherry pits, so the next step is to de-pit every cherry picked. Thankfully it is June and the weather is beautiful, so the cousins gather around on the porch and begin splitting open the cherries one by one. My guess is that people have realized how tedious a task it is to split open each cherry, so now there are special piping tools made of metal that gracefully split the cherry perfectly in half with much ease. But before buying these, my family has found that chopsticks can do quite the trick as well. Some of my little cousins still prefer this method as well; it is not until five pairs of broken chopsticks later that they cave in and use the piping tools.

I know what your thinking: an afternoon filled with cherry splitting in the hot sun sounds rather awful! Well, there is something to be said about being surrounded by loved ones, sitting in the summer sun with the sweet aroma of cherries filling the air. What makes the most of it all is the good company. My cousins and I only see each other on special occasions, some maybe only once a year, so the stories we have to share are endless. The whole event in itself is rather humorous, so it makes for a day filled with laughing at one another over the stories we tell, the memories we have, and the buckets upon buckets of cherries we all still have yet to split.

By the time we finish, we are left with legitimate buckets of split open cherries, gossip-filled ears, dark-red fruit stains traveling up to our wrists, and a grandmother with a warmed heart knowing her family is happy all around her. Seeing her happy like that really reminds you that it is the little things in life we must cherish the most. The pie shells on the other hand, have been eagerly waiting.

pie.jpg

The Sweetest Pie You’ll Ever Try

Prep: 30 minutes Cook: 60 minutes Total: 1hr. 30 minutes Servings: Approximately 8

Ingredients (per 1 pie):

  1. 4 ½ cups fresh (mixed with sweat and laughter tears) whole pitted cherries
  2. ¼ cup cornstarch
  3. ⅔ cup sugar
  4. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract for flavor
  5. ¼ cup almond extract
  6. 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  7. ⅛ teaspoon salt
  8. 1 tablespoon cold butter
  9. 1 egg yolk
  10. 1 tablespoon heavy whipping cream

How to Make the Filling (the best part):
*Heat oven to 400 degrees*

  1. In a large bowl, mix in vanilla extract, almond extract, lemon juice, and a hint of salt.
  2. Mix all of the ingredients together before adding in the cherries (keep the cherries fresh – do not mash them or crush them. The best bites of pie are filled with whole, sweet cherries). Do not stir – gently toss to combine.

Pie Crust:

  1. Roll out a 13 inch circle of dough (make sure the dough is at room temperature).
  2. Spoon cherry pie filling into the crust – discard the liquid at the bottom of the bowl. Only go for the thick stuff and make sure to dot the corners of the crust with cold butter -this will hold the folding in place.
  3. Use a knife (or even scissors – whatever is easier just please not chopsticks for Gods sake) to cut the second half of dough approximately ¾ inch from the edge of the pie. This will be used to top the masterpiece you are almost done creating.

How to Perfect the Folds of  a Perfect Pie:

  1. Gently place the top layer of dough over the entire pie. Begin folding the top layer over the bottom layer – getting fancy at this step is allowed as long as the pie is completely closed at the edges. Keep in mind that the border should be about ¼ thicker than the remainder of the crust.
  2. Place in the fridge for 20 minutes before baking.

Bake:

  1. Whisk together whipping cream and egg yolk. This concoction will be used to drip over your pie and make it sweeter. A baking brush is perfect for this step.
  2. Cut 3-4 slits on the top surface of the pie and FINALLY it is ready for the oven!
  3. Bake for 20 minutes before lowering the heat to 350 degrees, and then bake for another 30-40 minutes. The crust should be a perfect golden brown.

ENJOY.

 

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