The holidays are a time for being with one’s loved ones, for giving gifts and giving thanks, and for feasting on seasonal favorites. I’m a compulsive baker all year round, but I get particularly antsy for something sugary and flour dusted come December, spending each weekend searching for a project in the festive vein. And for me (and many Southerners), festive means one thing: pie.
Many moons ago, one of my best friends from high school and I spent a summer evening watching a little movie that had just come out called “Waitress.” If you’re not familiar with the film, it’s the darkly comedic tale of a small-town girl who works in a diner, hates her husband, loves her gal pals, and has an affair with her obstetrician (while pregnant, with her husband’s baby). And through it all, the ups and downs of her story are punctuated by pies, each one tuned to the moment and given a creative name. We left the theatre with visions of Marshmallow Mermaids and Naughty Pumpkins dancing in our heads — and my personal favorite, “’I Can’t Have No Affair Because It’s Wrong and I Don’t Want Earl to Kill Me” Pie (hold the banana) — and with a hankering to make some pies of our own.
Since then, we have set out on a quest to master the art of pie making. Whenever we both find ourselves in Kentucky (and occasionally in Tennessee or New York), we bake. We’ve made Derby pies and fruit pies, chocolate chess and meringue, frozen ice cream pies and warm bubbling berries. Together we’ve peeled apples, pitted cherries, candied pecans, and snacked on extra bits of crust. Our current record is 6 pies in one sitting, spanning four different flavors and a whole lot of Thanksgiving cheer. And with each pie we make, we give it a name, in the spirit of Jenna, our original inspiration.
This recipe is one of our holiday favorites, our Merry Cherry Christmas Pie — red as holly berries and Santa’s nose. You should use fresh cherries if you can come by them (and if you do, I highly recommend investing in a pitter, in order to save yourself a lot of painstaking work and stained hands straight out of a horror movie). However, since fresh berries can be hard to come by in the winter months, you can also use frozen; just make sure you thaw them completely, and you may want to increase the amount of tapioca/cornstarch slightly, since frozen fruit tends to hold more water.
Happy baking, and a very happy holidays from myself and Scout!
Merry Cherry Christmas Pie
2 pie crusts, one for the base and one for the lattice (you can make your own if you’re feeling industrious, or Pillsbury does the trick quite nicely)
⅔ cup granulated sugar
3 tbsp quick-cooking tapioca or cornstarch
Zest and juice of 1 lemon (Important note: In our experience, a whole lemon tends to make the pie way too tart, so I suggest starting with half and tasting before you add more.)
4 cups pitted sweet cherries, fresh or frozen
Optional: one egg, cane sugar
Preheat the oven to 400° F.
Mix the sugar, tapioca/cornstarch, and lemon zest and juice together.
Pour the mixture over the cherries in a medium bowl and toss gently to coat evenly.
Line your pie dish with one of your crusts. Fill with the cherries.
Roll out your second pie crust and, using a sharp knife (or a pastry wheel if you’re fancy), cut into strips, about 1-in. wide. Use these strips to create a lattice top over your pie. If you haven’t made a lattice before, this video is super easy to follow!
Optional: Beat one egg in a small bowl. Brush over your crust, covering thoroughly, and sprinkle evenly with cane sugar. This gives the crust a nice shiny look when it’s baked.
Place the pie on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Check the crust; if it has already started to brown, you can cover the edges with aluminum foil to prevent overbrowning. Continue baking for another 30-40 minutes, until the cherry filling bubbles and the crust is golden brown all over.
Remove from oven and chill for one hour (it’s tempting to dig in straight away, we know, but the filling needs time to cool and set, otherwise you end up with a crust bowl full of cherry soup).
Adapted from “500 Pies and Tarts” by Rebecca Baugniet, the best little pie book around.