Every July, I look forward to the site of sour cherries at my farmers market. You see, sour cherries and I go way back.
Firstly, sour cherries or “pie cherries” were the only cherries I knew of growing up. Living in rural Iowa, the only cherries we had access to were the cherries from the trees growing locally….and these were sour cherries to be used in pies. It wasn’t until I moved to New York City at the tender age of 18 that I discovered the fancy cherries that cost upwards of $5 a pound (and this was in the 80s).
But back to Iowa. I would like to tell you about lazy July afternoons spent sitting high up in a cherry tree, eating my fill of these mouth puckering delights. And that would be true. But my Iowa memories of cherries are from a darker place. You see, I wasn’t one of the popular kids. I was an awkward, bespectacled 12 year-old that was never invited to the Saturday night boy-girl parties where popular girls would pucker up for their first kiss. I spent my Saturday nights spending Friday night’s babysitting money on Dolly Madison fruit pies….cherry to be specific. My fellow underdog friend (who shall remain nameless) and I would eat fruit pies and drink Pepsi Light until we were sick. Then, if the host of the boy-girl party lived close enough, we would go “spy” on the house, hoping to catch a glimpse of the action going on inside.
Flash forward to present day. Still a homebody. But hopefully not quite so awkward. And the memories gorging myself on the sickly sweet, preservative laden pies of my youth have been replaced with memories of time with my daughter Chelsea….hot July afternoons spent pitting several pounds of sour cherries. Laughing, talking and covered head to toe in sticky sweet-sour cherry juice. Nothing can top it.
Unfortunately, Chelsea wasn’t here with me for my cherry adventure this July, but you can bet I’m saving several bags in the freezer awaiting her visit this November. Hand pies in July, and hand pies again in November!
As with blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and peaches, cherries freeze well. I freeze them first in a single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet. Once frozen, I transfer to plastic freezer bags for use during the fall and winter months.
Sour Cherry Hand Pies
Makes 10-12 hand pies. Keep in mind that these pies are “rustic”, and some filling will leak out….don’t worry, they will still taste fabulous. These also transport well, and make a great addition to the summer bbq dessert table.
Sour Cherry Filling:
2 cups pitted sour cherries (thawed if using frozen)
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons corn starch
2 teaspoons amaretto or kirsch (optional, but strongly encouraged)
In a small saucepan combine cherries, sugar and cornstarch. Stir until combined, then place pan over medium heat and still frequently. Cherries will start to release their juices and mixture will come to a boil. Turn heat to low and continue to cook about 10 minutes. Just before removing from heat stir in amaretto or kirsch, if using. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
When working with pastry dough, always keep everything VERY cold. If the pastry becomes too sticky or difficult to work with, just throw it into the freezer or fridge for a minute or two.
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 sticks butter, very cold and cut into 1/2 in pieces
7-8 tablespoons ice water
Stir flour, salt and sugar in a mixing bowl. Add cold butter pieces, and using a pastry blender until only pea sized clumps of flour remain.
Then, add 7 tablespoons ice water, and stir with a fork until dough begins to come together. If dough is still too dry/crumbly, then add ice water by the teaspoon until dough comes together. You will still see clumps of butter.
Wrap in plastic wrap and chill at least one hour and up to overnight. Before baking, preheat oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.
On lightly floured parchment paper, roll out dough to 1/4 inch thickness. Using 5-6 inch round cookie cutter (or empty coffee tin), cut out circles. Place circles on parchment lined baking sheet. Spoon a generous tablespoon of cherry filling onto 1/2 of the pastry round.
Fold top over to bottom, being careful to keep filling inside. Crimp edges with a fork dipped in flour.
Make a slit in the top of each pie (this allows steam to release) and brush with egg wash (1 egg yolk lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water).
Sprinkly with demerara sugar (or granulated sugar if you don’t have demerara sugar).
Bake in a 400 degree oven for 15-20 minutes. Crust will be golden brown and filling will be gently bubbling. Cool on wire rack. Best if eaten the same day.
Alternatively, pies can be frozen before brushing with the egg wash and baked at a later date. Freeze on parchment lined baking dish before placing in plastic freezer bag. Do not thaw before baking, brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar, then simply add 5-7 minutes on to baking time.