For Father’s Day, I’ve decided to bake my son a cherry pie. In the Guzzardi family, cherry pie love is a generational thing — it was my Dad’s favorite as well as mine and my son’s.
So into the kitchen I will go, keeping my fingers crossed that my ongoing challenge with pie dough will finally work out in my favor. Overall, my record on successfully rolling out pie dough into a perfect circle, as opposed to something that resembles Florida, is no better than 50-50.
A pie’s final results will be no better than its ingredients. I’ve got a good head start because I’ll be using Lodi’s famous Bing cherries, which my friend Nancy Miller sent to me. When I lived in Lodi, I was a regular at Nancy’s Harney Lane orchard during May. I lived nearby and visited with her about the year’s crop and how business was going. Nancy was more than generous with her pie baking techniques and tips.
Before I left Lodi, Nancy gave me her phone number so I could order from Pittsburgh. Each year, I get three or four shipments that I immediately ready for pies, smoothies and cherry vanilla ice cream. I’ve shared cherries with family, friends and neighbors. Everyone agrees — Nancy’s are the best they’ve eaten. And from my practical perspective, they’re fresher, tastier and, even after calculating freight, cheaper than what’s available in the local supermarket.
When it comes to pies, I’m a minimalist. Give me apple, cherry or peach. Cream pies should be banana, coconut or chocolate. I’d include lemon meringue except my own attempts have been dismal failures. Store-bought or restaurant varieties just don’t make the grade.
Two years ago, the American Pie Council awarded first place in cherry pie category, amateur division to “My Cherry Amour,” a magnificent creation topped with whipped cream, slivered almonds, filled with cream cheese, frozen whipped cream and sweetened condensed milk. The crust was a concoction that included coconut milk, ground coconut cookies and plenty of heavy cream.
To me, that’s too much work with too many possibilities for disastrous, pie-destroying consequences. Worse, the end product may only faintly taste of cherries.
Although I confessed up front that my pie skills are nothing to write home about, I can give the baker some good, time-tested tips to help master cherry pie. First, the unpleasant but necessary task of pitting cherries must be done by hand. Somewhere in my cellar are several cherry pitting gizmos that just didn’t do the job. Martha Stewart recommends using a paper clip. But I say put cherries in the deepest bowl you own, place it in the bottom of your sink and keeping your hands at the dish’s bottom and standing as far away as you can, start pitting. I’m always amazed at how far cherry juice can travel.
Second, substitute leaf lard for 25 percent of the total fat called for in your crust recipe. Leaf lard produces a flaky crust. A ceramic pie dish is preferred; chilling it before putting in your rolled-out dough is recommended.
Third, an easy way to prevent your bottom crust from becoming soggy — and therefore inedible — is to brush a beaten egg white on it, then put it into the fridge for a few minutes. A seal will form that protects the crust from the cherries’ juices.
Fourth and most important, if the cherry pie doesn’t make it, take out a trifle glass, fill it three quarters of the way up with cherry crust and filling, then pile on whipped cream. As Julia Child said, whipped cream is the baker’s best friend.
Joe Guzzardi regularly entered his baked goods at the San Joaquin County and California State Fairs where, he says, he did “pretty good.” He’ll share any recipe at firstname.lastname@example.org.