Photo by Vicki
Baking with Granny
Rose's cherry pie, like her caramel sticky buns, won almost universal raves, including the highest possible compliment, which must be spoken in whispers, lest feelings be hurt. "This pie is better than mom's." A friend of Kristina's was heard to say it was better than her mother's, and Raymond himself admitted that the crust "topp[ed] even his mother's.... Kudos to Rose for this pastry."
On a par with the "better than mom's" compliment is the "this is the best pie I've ever eaten" compliment, which, I guess subsumes "better than mom's" unless mom wasn't a pie baker. (My own mother made cherry pie from the sour cherry tree in our back yard, which I remember being an excellent climbing tree except when cherry-eating birds pooped on your head). Even with those good, fresh cherries, I recall the pie as having too much cornstarch or tapioca, making it gummy, and she made a standard Crisco pie crust, with very little Crisco, since she didn't want my dad to gain weight. I know, it doesn't make sense to me either.
Anyway, Kim was among those saying it was the best cherry pie she'd ever eaten (the first and only actually), but she was "gobsmacked" by how good it was. Patricia also said it was the best ever, and although Patricia usually has a few helpful suggestions, this time she said her only tweak would be to remember to set the timer so that one half of the pie didn't look too brown. (If you've seen the photos of Patricia's pies, you'll know that's a very minor tweak.) Not only did we think it, but so did our tasters. Monica's husband's cousin (I think I've got that right), said those sought-after words, "This is the best cherry pie I've ever eaten!" In a variation on this theme, a friend of Kristina's told her that it couldn't be cherry pie that she was eating because she doesn't like cherry pie.
And Monica came right out and said what many of you were thinking: "Why did Marie schedule this pie when sour cherries are not in season? Why?" Um. To challenge you? Well, in part because I wasn't always sure when the season was and because nothing is ever going to be "in season" for everybody in this project, living all over the world as we do. I did actually originally have this pie scheduled for the summer, but I got a few requests for a double-crusted pie for pi day, and I chose this one. Also, partly because I thought it would be easier to find frozen cherries than it was. I'm actually also wondering why a scheduled the cran-raspberry upside cake at the end of March, when neither cranberries or raspberries are in season (at least not in MN) and it's still a little early for the rhubarb alternative. I have no clue.
Maybe I should have just stopped my reasoning after saying I did it to challenge you, because you all certainly lived up to the challenge! Lois's grocer looked at her blankly when she requested canned or frozen sour cherries. He'd never heard of such a thing; nor had he heard of cherry pie filling. What's going on in this country? How will Billy Boy ever find a girl to marry? But, undaunted, Lois bought some frozen sweet cherries and some frozen cranberries for added tartness, and pronounced it all "delicious." Faithy (another "best pie I've ever eaten") used a combination of jarred Morello (sour) cherries and Griottines (Morello cherries packed in brandy or kirsch). Both inventive and delightful!
Catherine did something very similar, using Morello cherries and cherry brandy (apparently sour cherries are called Morello cherries in other parts of the world, which sounds much fancier--maybe Rose should have called this a Morello cherry pie.) She didn't get enough Morello cherries to fill the pie, so it was a shallow-dish pie, but still good, and "fun to do the lattice." Vicki, on the other hand, had "no patience with the lattice" but still thought the pie was "incredible." (In addition to the photo of the week, I also like Vicki's picture of her empty pie tin, showing only a few traces of what was just minutes earlier a whole pie). Once Tony started shopping to find a sour cherry substitute, he couldn't stop: he ended up with canned sour cherries, black cherry juice concentrate, cherry-infused craisins, and some brandy.
Orin (who I'm beginning to think may be a person you wouldn't want to cross), decided that sour cherries must be in season somewhere so she made it her mission to find the "freshest cherries available in the United States." She happened on Northwest Wild Foods, and phoned them to find out if she would be getting the freshest possible fruit. She was assured that the cherries were flash frozen at the peak of their ripeness, and she ordered them. If you glance at the picture of a bowl of her magnificent red cherries, you'll remember your own anemic-looking canned cherries and wish you'd had Orin doing your shopping. At least, if the "you" in that sentence is me, that's what you're thinking.
Milagritos reminded us that cherries are not in season in Australia, either, but she used frozen sweet cherries and added lemon to adjust the sweet/tart ratio. Jenn made that adjustment in a different way; she used a mixture of sweet cherries and raspberries. It made a very pretty picture. In fact, Jenn admitted that sometimes she doesn't care if she "likes the taste, as long as it looks pretty for the picture." Our own Knitty Baker may have to change her moniker to Knitty Baker Photographer. Speaking of "looking pretty," Glori announced on the Facebook page that her pie was an "epic fail," I turned to her blog like someone rushing to the scene of an accident. What I saw was a beautiful pie. The crust was perfect. The lattice was perfect. If you saw a picture of this pie, you'd try to eat it. Where was the epic fail? I read on, and it seems that Glori forgot to put her baking stone in the oven, and her bottom crust was raw. I can see how that would be disappointing, and I don't mean to sound like I'm being all schadenfreude-ish, but I expected less beauty from an "epic fail"! And who would have thought that omitting the baking stone would make such a difference?
Mendy had no trouble finding the cherries, or making the lattice, or baking the pie. But he did manage to put together the most poetic and philosophic cherry pie blog I've ever read. First this: "A surrounding lattice, made as a net of copper." Exodus 38.4. Such a lovely image. Then there's this:"חי is a word that means life and looks suprisingly similar to the pi symbol π. A connection between the infinite source of life and a number that goes on forever?" See what I mean?
Finally, let's just have a round of applause for Monica, who established and manages the Facebook page that has allowed the Alphas to ask for, and receive, such great advice. Of course, it was Raymond who brought up the cherry problem, and a good thing he did, or we wouldn't have been alerted that it was not going to be easy as pie to get pie cherries. When Vicki was stressing over a pie filling that wouldn't thicken, Hanaa told her just to add more cornstarch. And Joan was struggling over some "crumbly dough," when Patricia came to her rescue, leading to a result that, "in the end, is another recipe that needs to be tripled!"
Thanks, Monica, and to all the other bakers who so willing to troubleshoot and come to the aid of a fellow baker.
NEXT WEEK: We continue on the classic Americana road, with oatmeal cookies, the kind that my grandmother always had on hand. (How is that possible?) I don't think there should be any ingredient difficulty here, unless you can't find the light brown Muscovado sugar (in which case you can just substitute dark brown sugar, so no worries). You do have to make the granola ahead of time, but it's possible to do that just before you start on the cookies. You could use different granola, but since most granola includes fruits and notes, I think that a storebought granola might throw off the proportions, and Rose's granola is good and easy to make.