L.M. Montgomery & Mock Cherry Pie

Lucy_Maud_MontgomeryLike many girls, I was a big fan of the Anne of Green Gables books growing up. My grandma had the movies starring Megan Follows. And I think those old VHS tapes are still in a box at my mom’s house. However, I realized in the last few years that the author of the Anne of Green Gables books was a woman, though she often used the shortened and more gender-ambiguous L.M. Montgomery.

Canada’s favorite daughter, L.M. Montgomery preferred to go by her middle name, Maud (without an “e”), and was born and raised on Prince Edward Island. Her mother died when she was very young, and she was sent by her father to live with her grandmother. She spent much of her time by herself, and she would often describe her upbringing as lonely.

Montgomery got the idea for Anne of Green Gables when she was looking through an old newspaper and found a story of a couple who had sent a request to an orphanage for a boy, but received a girl instead. And she used a fictional version of Green Gables, an actual farm that was once owned by Montgomery’s cousins. In 1908, the book was published and was almost immediately a hit. (A story for those of you out there dealing with rejection: The first time Montgomery sent the manuscript for Anne of Green Gables out to publishers, it was rejected by all of them. She put the manuscript at the bottom of a trunk for three years before she sent it out again in 1908.)

However, Montgomery’s success did not translate to her personal life. In 1911, after her grandmother died, Montgomery married her husband Ewan McDonald, a Presbyterian Minister. The marriage was not a happy one, and they shared few interests. Even so, she and her husband had two sons, and one son who was stillborn. And, even though she had a successful writing career, as a woman of her time and of her strong religious conviction, Montgomery believed that it was her duty to be a good wife and mother. Part of this, of course, meant providing meals for her family, and Montgomery was an excellent cook. Years ago, one of her nieces even compiled a cookbook of her aunt’s recipes.

One of her younger son’s favorite recipes of his mother’s was mock cherry pie, which is composed of raisins and cranberries instead of cherries. I originally thought that “mock cherry pie” was probably one of those awesome depression-era recipes, where home cooks somehow fashioned a roast beef dinner out of an old shoe. Not so. Mock cherry pie was popular around the turn of the century, and the first mentions of the recipe seem to come from the Chicago Record Cook Book, published in 1896. Then the recipe was picked up by New Englanders and Canadians, probably because of their ready access to fresh cranberries during the colder months.

So, in honor of Lucy Maud Montgomery, born on this day 143 years ago, I’ve made a mock cherry pie. I looked through several recipes in old newspapers and all are very simple and almost exactly the same: cranberries, raisins, sugar, flour, vanilla. I used the same here, except I increased the portions slightly (most recipes call for about 1 1/2 cups of filling total. The recipe below more than doubles that and it’s still a rather small pie).

Mock Cherry Pie

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Mock Cherry Pie
Makes one 8-inch pie.

Ingredients:
1 two-crust pie crust (I prefer this one)
2 1/2 cups cranberries
1 1/4 cups dark raisins
3/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp lemon zest
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
For egg wash:
1 egg
1 tbsp milk or cream
2 tsp sugar

Instructions:

Slightly chop the cranberries by hand or in a food processor, just enough so they are no longer whole. To a saucepan, add the cranberries, raisins, sugar, flour, lemon zest, and salt. Mix together and then bring to a boil over medium heat, for about 15 minutes total. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Prepare the bottom half of your pie shell. Fill with cranberry raisin mixture. Place in refrigerator while you prepare the top of the crust.

Prepare the top of the shell. You can make this into a traditional lattice-top, or just a solid layer over the top. Either way, be sure there are holes in the top crust to allow steam to escape. Place top crust over the mixture and crimp the edges. Place in freezer for about 15 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Beat together the egg and milk or cream. After the pie has been in the freezer for 15 minutes, brush the top crust of the pie with the mixture. Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of sugar. Place on a cookie sheet and bake pie for about 25 minutes, turn 180 degrees and continue baking for another 25 minutes. If the edges of the crust begin to get too dark, cover them with foil and continue to bake.

Remove from oven and serve warm, or at room temperature.

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How about that? Very simple, and in the winter months this recipe will provide you with the sweet-sour, cherry-like flavor you’ve been craving. Would a cherry-pie-loving person be fooled? No, probably not. But the fact is, this pie is absolutely stands on its own two feet. It’s delicious. And, if you are a fan of cherry pie, I think you’d be hard pressed to find something as satisfying during the winter months.

Two quick tips: 1) The bigger the raisins, the better. They plump up and provide you with the bite you would get from a cherry, as well as the sweetness. 2) I always have trouble getting my foil to stay on my pie crusts while baking. This time I used one of those throwaway foil pie pans, but I cut the bottom out and just placed it over my crust. It worked awesome! Maybe everyone already knows this trick, but I really impressed myself.

Happy 143rd birthday, Lucy Maud Montgomery!

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Cherry Clafoutis for Bastille Day

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Try as I might the rest of the year, summer is perhaps the only time I get even close to an appropriate amount of fruits and vegetables. July is especially wonderful, because it just seems like everything is ripe, juicy, and delicious. Everyday, I pack leftover Talenti jars to the top with whatever fruits and veggies we have on hand, just to snack on. I think already this summer I’ve eaten more than my weight in cantaloupe, cucumbers, and cherries. Back when I made sweet cherry pie, I promised the world and myself that I would make tart cherry pie this summer. And I just saw Local Foods, a grocery store in Chicago that specifically sources from farmers and vendors in the Midwest, post a pic of their tart cherries on Insta, so I’m about to get on that.

But today I’m taking advantage of the overabundance of sweet cherries to make clafoutis to celebrate France’s national holiday, Bastille day! Is that a thing that Americans can celebrate? Did we get that right revoked when we started calling French fries, “Freedom fries”? I know that New Orleans has celebrations for Bastille Day, but those people, you know, have French last names.

I’ll be honest, until I was researching this post, I mostly associated Bastille Day with a Portlandia episode. Genealogically speaking, much of my family hails from England, so I’ve always been more Anglophile than Francophile. Sure, I had heard of Bastille Day. I knew that it is France’s national independence day. However, even as a student of history, I didn’t know how destroying a prison related to French independence.

Bastille Day (which is what English speakers call it–in France, it’s just the 14th of July, or the National Celebration), commemorates the storming of the Bastille. The Bastille was a fortress and political prison in Paris, used primarily by French monarchs to detain any number of prisoners, for any number of crimes. Because France was an absolute monarchy, meaning the King was in complete control of the government, prisoners sent to the Bastille could be kept there secretly and indefinitely without proper judicial process. The misuse of the Bastille became a symbol of Royal authority and tyrannical power. By 1789, revolution was being openly discussed by the French people and, in July, a group of 900 commoners gathered outside the nearly empty prison, to demand the release of guns and ammunition that had been stored there a few days earlier. After demands were not met and negotiations dragged on, the crowds stormed into the courtyard, and after hours of gunfire, a cease-fire was called, the doors were opened, and the crowd surged in.

The King at the time was Louis XVI, whose wife was Marie Antoinette. A few years after the Bastille was stormed, Louis would be established as a constitutional monarch, which would limit his power. In 1893, the French monarchy was dismantled altogether and Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and many of those close to them were tried and executed for treason.

The storming of the Bastille is considered a turning point in the Revolution which directly led to the establishment of France as a republic. There’s your very brief history lesson.

Cherry Clafoutis

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Cherry Clafoutis

Ingredients:
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup whole milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract (can substitute another 1/2 tsp of vanilla)
3 large eggs
1/2 cup flour
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups cherries (stone fruit or berries work well, too), pitted
Powdered sugar for serving, optional

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a bowl, mix together the sugar and salt. Add the milk and the vanilla and almond extract. Beat in the three eggs. Finally, sift in the flour, whisking it as you pour. You can also do this in a blender or food processor. You want the mixture to be smooth and foamy.

Liberally grease a 10-inch skillet or dish with the butter.

Add the fruit to the bottom of the skillet or dish and pour the batter over the top.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until the middle is set and the top is golden brown.

Cool for a few minutes, dust with powdered sugar, and serve in wedges.

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If you’ve never had clafoutis before, you’re in for a treat. It’s very similar in texture and taste to a Dutch Baby. It’s less airy and more substantive, which is perfect, because sometimes Dutch Babies aren’t quite filling enough, even just for the two of us. Also, easiness level is high, especially if you have a cherry pitter on hand.

And, if you don’t have cherries on hand, use any kind of berry or stone fruit for this dish and it will turn out great. (If you want to be “that guy”, here’s a fun fact: When any other fruit besides cherries are used, it’s called a flaugnarde, not clafoutis.)

Also, traditionally the cherries in clafoutis would not be pitted. The pits of the cherries are supposed to give the dish a slight almond flavor. I pitted my cherries and just added some almond extract. However, if you don’t have it on hand, vanilla works great. This is one of those recipes that, if you do any home baking at all, you probably have the ingredients on hand right now.

Bonne fête nationale!

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Sweet Cherry Pie

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“Do I watch too much TV?” part of myself often wonders. “No, TV is amazing,” says all the other parts of myself. And then I “Play next episode” until I, I don’t know… die? I know it’s not great for me, but there is just so much good TV to watch. For example, on Sunday, the new Twin Peaks premieres on Showtime and I couldn’t be more stoked. Last month, while Alex and I were visiting the Pacific Northwest, we visited several Twin Peaks sites, like a couple of tourists. We even got cherry pie at Twede’s Cafe, a.k.a. the Double R Diner. If you’ve ever seen the show, you know how much Agent Dale Cooper loves his snacks in general, but cherry pie in particular. Cherry pie and a “damn fine cup of coffee” served “black as midnight on a moonless night.” 

There are actually two other reasons I’m making cherry pie now. The first is, I’ve never made one and I really wanted to. I count it among my favorites, if not as my favorite pie. (Cherry anything for me, really.) Secondly, I recently found out that it was my grandpa’s favorite dessert. A few days ago, my grandpa would have turned 90 years old, but he passed away just over four years ago. Gruff, quite honestly, is the very best word to describe him. He and my grandma were the parents of three rowdy and mischievous boys, whose rowdiness and mischievousness never really subsided. He probably wasn’t the easiest man to have as a father, but he was a super grandpa. And he gave the best bear hugs. I actually don’t know if he ever realized he was bear-hugging. He was a burly man, so I assume that his default hugging mode was “bear.” Anyway, I like the idea of him having a favorite dessert. As much as I think about food and my grandparents, I unfortunately don’t often think of the things that gave them joy. I think of them along with terms like “stoic” and “hard-working”, but I wish I more often thought of them more in terms of “musician” and “cherry pie-lover.”

Anyway, for me, those were enough good reasons to make cherry pie (even though it’s not quite in season). So, then, it’s cherry pie.

Sweet Cherry Pie

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Sweet Cherry Pie
(Makes one 9-inch pie)

Ingredients for the crust:
Slight variation of this recipe.

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out dough
2 sticks (16 tbsp) unsalted butter, cubed and very cold
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
8-12 tablespoons ice water
1 1/2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

For egg wash:
1 egg
1 tbsp milk
1 tbsp sugar

Ingredients for the filling:
5 1/2 cups of sweet cherries (frozen or fresh; pitted)
3 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp apple cider vinegar
2/3 cup sugar
5 tbsp corn starch
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp unsalted butter, cubed and very cold

Instructions for the crust:

In a food processor, or large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt.

Add the cold, cubed butter and process for about 5 seconds. If not using a food processor, incorporate the butter into the dry mixture until the butter is pea sized.

Add in 8 tbsp. of ice water and apple cider vinegar. Pulse for 5 more seconds. If the mixture is still quite dry, add 1 tbsp. of water at a time until the mixture holds shape when you pinch it together. Do not exceed 12 tbsp. of water.

Pour out onto a floured surface. Separate the dough into two equal parts. Gather one of the parts and form a disk shape. Wrap in plastic wrap. Repeat with the second portion.

Refrigerate for at least an hour, or up to two days.

When the dough is ready, roll out on a well-floured surface until it’s large enough to fit into a 9-inch pie pan. Lay the dough across the pan, with the edges hanging off. Cover with a dishtowel and refrigerate while you prepare the top crust.

On a well-floured surface, roll out the second disk of dough, making sure you roll your dough out to a diameter of 12 inches.

Using a pizza cutter or a knife, 5 zig-zag cutouts across the diameter of the dough, about 1-inch thick.

Place each line on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, cover with a dishtowel, and refrigerate until you’re ready to cover your pie.

Instructions for the filling:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

If using frozen cherries: Place into a colander over a large mixing bowl to thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Discard the juice that is released from the thawed cherries.

In a large bowl, add the cherries, lemon juice, vinegar, and vanilla and stir to combine.

Add the cornstarch and combine well. There should be no streaks of cornstarch. Add the sugar and stir to combine.

Allow the mixture to sit for about 20-30 minutes.

If using frozen cherries, use a slotted spoon to add the cherries to the bottom half of the pie crust. Discard any leftover liquid. If using fresh cherries, pour entire mixture into the pie shell. Arrange the cubed butter over the cherries.

Arrange the zig-zag cutouts over the top of the cherries. Trim away all but about a 1/2-inch of the edge of the dough. Form a decorative edge.

Cover with a dishtowel and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes.

Beat together the egg and milk. Using a pastry brush, paint egg wash on all exposed pie shell. Sprinkle the crust with 1 tbsp of sugar.

Bake for 25 minutes at 400 degrees. Then lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for approximately 45 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. If the pie edges are browning too quickly, cover with a foil tent for the remaining baking time.

Remove from oven and allow to cool for 2-3 hours before cutting and serving.

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As I said, we’re not fully into cherry season yet. I used frozen sweet cherries, because that’s what I had access to, but I came to the (expected) conclusion that I prefer a tart cherry pie. If you’re starting with tart cherries, you will certainly need to cut down the lemon juice and increase the sugar a bit. Sometime this summer, when I can fully take advantage of Chicago’s farmer’s markets, I will work on perfecting my tart cherry pie recipe. In the meantime, I think this sweet cherry would satisfy the quirkiest of agents, and the gruffest of grandpas.