Today, we’re thrilled to introduce a new column here on the HOMEGROWN blog called “Slice Of Life” written by Emily Hilliard. Emily Hilliard is a folklorist, writer, fiddler, and baker currently residing in Washington, D.C. She earned an MA in Folklore from the University of North Carolina, where she studied the revivalism of American vernacular music, women’s domestic creativity and foodways. She writes the pie blog Nothing-in-the-House.
Emily introduces herself:
There are so many reasons why I like pie. First of all, pie is seasonal. It ties us to time and place, whether that’s peaches in the summertime, apples in the fall, or muscadines in North Carolina, gooseberries in Indiana. Pie also ties us to people. When you make a pie, you are calling upon all that past knowledge from so many women and men of past generations, and maybe that is your mother or father, grandmother or grandfather, or someone you never knew. Then when you share the pie you’ve made, you’re inviting others to also experience that expression of time and place, tradition and love with you, and eat it, making it a part of you. I think that’s so wild.
Seven years ago, my friend Margaret and I started Nothing-in-the-House, a pie blog, to keep in touch through the pies we baked and explore some of these themes. Though we don’t hear much from Margaret anymore, I continue this exploration of pie through a lens of baking, history, folklore, and popular culture. I’m excited to be sharing some of my posts old and new with HOMEGROWN, and you can always find more on my blog Nothing-in-the-House.
And now, on to pie!
It’s getting to be that gloriously overwhelming time of year when just about everything is ripe. Just last week at the Mt. Pleasant Farmers’ Market there were strawberries, raspberries, nectarines, apples, and sweet and sour cherries. So much fruit, so much pie-making potential. I wandered back and forth amongst the stalls a few times, caught, as I often am, in indecision. I bought some raspberries (I’ll show you what I made with them soon), and then remembered that I had some dear Michigan friends coming to play a show at my house on Monday. Of course! Cherries. I had to get tart cherries.
It is a little-known (at least seems to be when I tell people) that Michigan, Traverse City, specifically is the cherry capital of the world. The mitten state grows about 75% of the nation’s tart cherries. Thus growing up not too far from the capital, I was spoiled with an extended season of the fruit and all their products–jams and pies, salsas and syrups. This year, though, the Michigan cherry crop is sadly depleted, due to extreme spring weather, and down here in the mid-atlantic, tart cherries are harder to come by and the season is rather fleeting. All the more reason, then, to buy a few pints at the Farmers’ Market, bring them home, put them in a pie to share it with true cherry natives. Just easing another bout of that Michigan summer nostalgia I’ve been feeling lately.
I perused a few different recipes and borrowed a little bit from each for my own sour cherry pie rendition. I highly recommend getting your hands on a cherry pitter–before I had one I’d pit them by hand, which was hand-staining and time-consuming, especially when you consider that there about 250 cherries in each cherry pie. A lattice top is traditional, but you could get creative, or opt for a standard double crust if you’re pressed for time and not up for all that weaving.
Sour Cherry Pie
An amalgamation of several recipes including Lottie + Doof & Martha Stewart
Nothing-in-the-House pie crust recipe
1 c. sugar
3 Tblsp. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise and seeds scraped and reserved (vanilla bean is expensive, so if you’re being frugal, substitute 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract)
1 tsp. lemon zest
6 c. fresh sour cherries, pitted (cherry pitter highly recommended!)
2 Tblsp. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 Tblsp. milk
Turbinado sugar (for dusting–can use granulated sugar, if necessary)
1. Prepare pie crust as per the directions here. Refrigerate dough for approximately 1 hour. Once chilled, roll out 1/2 of pie crust and fit into a 9-inch greased and floured pie pan. Return crust to the fridge while you prepare the lattice & filling.
2. Roll out remaining dough into a long rectangle. Using a ruler as a guide, use a knife or pastry wheel to cut 10-16 (depending on the size) strips of equal width for the lattice top. Place strips on a piece or parchment and refrigerate until cold, about 10 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Meanwhile, combine sugar, cornstarch, salt, cinnamon, vanilla bean seeds, and lemon zest in a small bowl. Add cherries and toss with the dry mixture. Remove crust from the fridge and pour in the cherry filling. Dot the top of the filling with butter.
4. To make the lattice, lay 5-8 strips parallel across the pie and fold back every other strip. Weave the same number of strips perpendicular to the first strips, alternating over and under. Trim strips so that they leave a 1-inch overhang. Fold bottom crust over the lattice and tuck the excess under. Seal and flute edges decoratively. Brush lattice with the 1 Tblsp. milk and dust with Turbinado sugar.
5. Bake until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling, approximately 60-75 minutes. Once done, remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack. Serve slightly warm with a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream.
On Monday night, after going back and forth whether to have the show in the backyard under storm-threatening skies, we settled into the Dollhouse living room for two sets of traditional music–ragtime jazz and string band numbers from Baltimore’s Bumper Jacksons, and ballads, old-time tunes and such sweet harmonies from Michigander’s Red Tail Ring. Though Michael and I have been friends for about eight years now and I’ve seen him play in so many bands–ska and loud bluegrass and quiet singer-songwriter, I think he’s found his place here in this extremely tight and talented and duo.
After the show, I warmed the pie, and we dished it up with vanilla bean ice cream for the bands and remaining friends. The flavor was tart and just-sweet and complex, and just perfect. So good, that after Michael devoured the last sliver of a slice the next morning, I caught him unabashedly running his fingers through the leftover juice. The pie and pals and ping-pong (a rousing around-the-world session the next day) was the perfect antidote to my summer Michigan longing. Now I think it’s just been postponed until fall.