I’m not much of a pie-maker, I’ll admit. I know–that sounds outrageous for a farm woman, right? Farm women crank out pies like Mikkie D’s cranks out Big Macs, don’t they?
Well, it’s different when you’re both the farmer and the farmer’s wife. (And no, I haven’t secretly gotten married, unless it’s to myself.) My pie-making is typically reserved for the Thanksgiving holidays, when I turn my winter squashes (or other producers’, depending on my harvest that year) into single-crust pumpkin pies.
My mom made apple pies in fall, from Northern Spy apples we’d get at the orchards near our home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
She’d occasionally make blueberry when she got her shipment of frozen wild Maine fruits through Agway (though mostly those were reserved for her famous blueberry muffins), and she’d make pumpkin every Thanksgiving from a can of One Pie Pumpkin.
But we all loved pie–my dad especially, whose own mother was a prodigious pie-maker–often serving up two or three or four different kinds for the big family dinners that were a tradition in her household. She and my grandpa raised four strapping boys, so while she did work outside the home, food always seemed her main industry.
In my household, I have a cake lover, not a pie fiend. I should say that my son has learned an appreciation for the pumpkin variety in the last couple of years, but fruit pies have never been on the list of favorite desserts.
H–well, he does love pie, and I like it too, but going through the process of making one is my job alone, which means it just doesn’t happen except on special occasions.
This pie resulted from a confluence of factors: my pool- and bedside reading this summer is a collection of Wendell Berry essays and excerpts entitled Bringing it to the Table, and in one passage from Andy Catlett, Andy lovingly describes his Grandma Catlett making a raspberry pie for him.
Another influence was the fact that I’ve still got canned cherries from last year’s harvest of the University tree, even after having harvested and canned a smaller batch from a friend’s tree this year.
And then there’s the lard: my mom always used Crisco (and, at least during the times I remember, my grandma did, too), but I was given a quart jar of lard refined by my friend, Nate, who raised the hog that now sits butchered and wrapped in my freezer (I also have a big sack of frozen lard that I will need to refine myself).
The cherries in this pie have a few apricots mixed into them–gleanings from another tree at the University, and they are canned with light syrup mixed with a little rum, also from my friend Nate’s Still 173. I supplemented the canned cherries with some I’ve had sitting in a stronger ratio of rum in the back of the fridge since last summer.
The basic recipe is from the 1990 edition of Marion Cunningham’s The Fanny Farmer Cookbook I bought at one of our local secondhand stores–but I had to jiggle the filling ingredient amounts a bit because my cherries weren’t as sweet as the usual canned sour cherries, and I was using a nine inch pie plate instead of the called-for eight-incher.
Besides the fruit and a little juice, the filling has a couple tablespoons of Wheat Montana all-purpose flour, a teensy bit of salt, a half cup of white sugar, and a capful and half-capful of vanilla and almond extracts, respectively.
The crust is Fanny’s recipe for a two-crust nine-inch pie, with the lard instead of vegetable shortening.
I used Morton salt because it’s very humid out today, and it flows better in these conditions than sea salt. And I used my great-grandmother’s hand-carved rolling pin as a nod to the pie-making tradition on both sides of my family (with the “sock” over it that my mother sent, and instructed me to use).
My pie turned out a little amateurish (we’ll say rustic)–I didn’t weave the lattice top, and some of the pastry strips weren’t cut arrow-straight. But I feel pretty good about it for this being my first cherry pie, and my first lattice-top as well.
Cut into slices with some real vanilla ice cream on top (and no, I’m not planning on making that myself this time), its rustic nature will disappear by the fork-full, as its sweet-tart goodness fills the hearts and bellies of friends and family gathered together at the table, celebrating our nation’s day of independence.