Tart Cherries, also known as Sour Cherries or Pie Cherries, are commonly found in dessert recipes as they retain their shape well during cooking and their flavor mellows out and sweetens during baking. We’re talking about fresh tart cherries, not canned – there’s no comparison.
Making headlines recently as one of the latest identified “superfoods,” the health benefits of tart cherries have been well documented and continue to be studied. Both in whole fruit form, and as a 100% pure concentrated juice, tart cherries are high in antioxidants, provide pain relief from headaches, arthritis, and gout and are commonly recommended as a sleep aid.
A beautiful way to showcase these superfruit in dessert form is a classic cherry pie, but to find fresh tart (sour) cherries you need to be ready to pounce when they are in season. This season is short at about only 2 weeks, and availability is limited due to high demand. Many people in our area in Bucks County Pennsylvania place orders weeks or months in advance at local orchards. For us, after years of forgetting to reserve cherries for ourselves and completely missing out on the season, we finally just decided to plant our own tree.
Growing and Harvesting Tart Cherries:
Our 6 year old 12 foot Montmorency tart cherry tree grows happily in the corner of our yard with no maintenance whatsoever until early June when the fruit just starts to ripen, causing the birds to take notice. This is when the games begin – the Bartholomews vs. the birds. Birds can take out our entire cherry harvest in a single day, so that’s when we unleash our 80s technology. I take about 20 old CDs and start tying them to the branches, reflective side facing out, to freak out the entire local avian population, along with our neighbors. The rainbow spectrums of defracted light are ridiculously blinding at midday, making the tree look like a disco ball, but it protects our cherries as they fully ripen over the next two weeks, with no harm to the birds. Netting is difficult to wrap around the tree, and persistent birds tend to find a way inside anyway, risking injury from getting tangled. Another option is aluminum pie pans, ironically enough, since pies are where these cherries are headed. Our recipe for a perfectly simple tart cherry pie is below, along with tips on how to make a classic lattice top pie crust.
For a savory recipe using tart cherries, click this link for our succulent Seared Pork Chops with Tart Cherries and Mint – Click Here for Recipe.
- 2¼ lbs. fresh sour (tart) cherries, pitted (about 6 cups pitted cherries)
- ¾ cup sugar
- 3 tbsp cornstarch
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon almond extract
- 1 tbsp butter cut into tiny pieces
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- Pie crust dough (for a 2 crust pie) - See Notes for Pâte Brisée recipe
- Pit cherries with a cherry pitter, your hands, or by using a half-way bent open paperclip. To use a paperclip, bend open the paperclip half-way to create an "S" shape. Insert one end of the paperclip into the stem end of the cherry. Hook the cherry pit with the paperclip loop, and gently pull. After a few tries you'll get the knack.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. On a floured work surface, roll out half of your 2-crust pie dough so you are able to cut an 11-inch circle. Lay this circle into the bottom of a 9-inch pie plate and loosely trim any dough hanging over the edge. Refrigerate this pan while you work on the top crust lattice.
- Roll out the second half of your dough to about 10 x12 inches, and lay on a piece of lightly floured parchment paper, lining a baking sheet. Using a sharp knife cut 16 evenly spaced long strips (1/2" wide by 12" long). Leave the strips on the parchment-lined baking sheet, and refrigerate a few minutes until chilled.
- While the dough is chilling, combine sugar, salt, cornstarch and cinnamon in a large bowl. Add cherries, vanilla extract and almond extract, and stir gently with a big spoon until everything is even distributed.
- Retrieve the dough-lined pie plate from the fridge, and pour in the cherry mixture. Distribute the tiny pieces of butter all over the top of the cherry mixture. Brush the edge of the crust lightly with the beaten egg, then retrieve the chilled lattice strips.
- Weaving the Lattice Top: Place 8 lattice strips evenly spaced, horizontally across the pie pan. Then take every other strip (4 of them), and carefully fold them backward on themselves, about halfway. Take another strip and place it vertically across the center of the pan (perpendicular to the others). Unfold the strips over this vertical strip. Fold back the strips that are now underneath the vertical strip, and place another strip next to it. Unfold the strips over this second vertical piece. Continue weaving the lattice pieces across half the pie. Return to center, lay a perpendicular strip on unwoven side of pie, and repeat. Work carefully but quickly as the strips become more fragile the longer you handle them. Trim strips leaving a 1-inch overhang, tucking any extra under rim of crust. Brush the lattice lightly with the remaining egg.
- Bake in the oven until the crust becomes golden brown, about an hour to an hour and 20 minutes.
- Allow pie to cool on a wire rack and serve with whipped cream or ice cream.
2½ cups all-purpose flour 8 oz. unsalted chilled butter (2 sticks cut into tiny cubes, and then chilled again)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
⅓ cup ice water
Combine flour and salt in a bowl, and then add the chilled cubes of butter. The colder the butter, the better! Using your hands, pinch the butter in to the flour until the mixture feels crumbly and turns slightly golden, the color of cornmeal. Leaving some small lumps of butter is just fine, and will help make the crust flakier. Add the ice water into the middle of the dry ingredients in small amounts, stir together with your hands until the dough just comes together. If all the flour has not worked its way into the dough, sprinkle in a little more water until it all combines. Form a ball with the dough and reserve for pie recipe above.