My grandmother’s pantry was lined with mason jars, lined up in glassed-in rows on ascending shelves, floor to ceiling with counterspace in the middle, just as the public library’s shelves bulge with books. Colors were muted due to the canning process which had taken place in the fiercest heat of summer. She’d transformed the garden for endurance, coaxing her green beans, tomatoes, corn, blackberries, peaches, and cherries from their candy-bright natural state to the muted, rooted tones of keeper, spring green eased down to moss green and summer-tomato red geared down to the smooth shade that whispers “autumn”, just as the fresh-picked originals had hollered “July!” One of my favorites was cherry preserves, sour cherries from trees on the homeplace, pitted and cooked with prodigious amounts of sugar until they were soft, syrupy, and plush, an old-time rosy color and echoing flavor that I adored. I remember her cherry preserves on biscuits, as a messy, welcome companion or alternate to honey in the comb, apple jelly, strawberry jam, or blackberry preserves. I don’t remember them in pies, but as I researched the pie book I came across many recipes for simple sour cherry pies, calling for canned cherries right up front, with no huffing on about the pristine glory of freshness at the farmer’s market, or seasonal focus. Then I noticed canned sour cherries right up on the top shelf of the fruit aisle at my local supermarket, right next to cans of kadota figs, blueberries, and plums which look to me like they could be damsons — I’ll get back to you on that. I brought some home, and right inside of the label, there’s a recipe almost exactly like those in the old-time cookbooks, for a simple, and since the cherries are pitted and cooked down all ready to go, speedily assembled double-crust pie. I made it and you can see right here how lovely a result I got. These come from the great state of Oregon, not in the South which might be why they call them “red tart” cherries, rather than “sour”. You drain them, using some but not all of the juice for a velvety sauce, thickened with sugar and cornstarch. I could have used more sugar, but as long as there’s ice cream on the side, there’s nothing missing from this pleasing pie.
Nancie’s Sour Cherry Pie
Pastry for a 9-inch double-crust pie
3/4 cups sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 cans (14.5 oz) red-tart cherries or sour cherries, drained,with 1 cup of juice reserved
1 tablespoon cold butter, cut into small bits
(Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream make delicious accompaniments to this tangy pie)
Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Fit one sheet of the pastry into a 9-inch pie pan,adn set aside. Combine the sugar and cornstarch in a medium saucepan, and stir with a fork to mix them evenly and well. Add the 1 cup of cherry juice and stir well. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until you have a shiny, thickened and velvety-smooth sauce, 2 to 3 minutes. Add well-drained cherries to the pan and stir gently to coat them with the sauce. Pour the cherries and sauce into the hot cherry syrup and stir gently just to mix them together. Add the cherrie and all the syrup to the piecrust. Cover with the second sheet of piecrust, and press to seal the edges between top and bottom crusts. Pinch and press them to seal the edges between the two together well. Use either the tines of a fork, or your fingers to thoroughly and handsomely seal up the pie. Cut slits in the top (I made a big “c”) all around to allow steam and bubbling filling to escape, and bake at 400 degrees for about 45 to 55 minutes, until the filling is bubbly and thickened, and the crust is golden brown and gorgeous. Set the pie on a folded kitchen towel and cool to room temperature. Serve at room temperature or warm, ideally with vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream.