First place in the church pie bake off is in Shirley Tedesco’s sights. Ever since she joined as a newly-wed wife, her goal has been to reach the coveted spot held for far too long by fellow contestant, Claudia Romero. A sour cherry rhubarb pie is Shirley’s first third-place win, and Claudia can feel the younger woman breathing down her neck as she inches closer with every delicious baked creation.
I included cherry pie in my novel, The Tedescos, because it’s been a favorite since childhood. As delicious as sweet cherry pie is, there is just something—how can I describe it—more old-fashioned tasting about a sour cherry pie. The inclusion of rhubarb, traditionally featured alone or in combination with strawberries, makes Shirley’s pie a titch more special. Then there is the addition of a few ingredients even Claudia can’t discern.
Sour cherries were more readily available when I was younger. These days I have to travel a bit to find them, but they are worth it. Their too-short season of availability makes them even more desirable. If you can pick and pit your own, do so. However, fresh, pitted sour cherries can be purchased from farmer’s markets. I’ve heard good things about particular brands of jarred sour cherries in syrup, but I’ll let you do your own research and taste testing. Buying frozen sour cherries is an absolute last resort. I will say, though, that if you freeze sour cherries yourself, you’ll have better luck with them because the delicate fruit won’t be bashed about during transport and the defrosting process can take place slowly in your refrigerator.
Pre-picked and pitted sour cherries come in juice. Measure out four cups to a bag (enough for a ten-inch pie), and freeze them. Take care to evenly distribute the juice and don’t stack the bags on top of each other or place them where other frozen items will be stacked.
Rhubarb is easier to find in grocery stores and can be frozen until used. Neither the amount of red on the stalks nor the width has any bearing on the flavor. Wash the stalks, trim the ends, pat them dry, and cut into half-inch pieces. Lay the cut rhubarb in a single layer on a baking sheet with edges, freeze them for a couple of hours, and transfer the frozen pieces to a large plastic bag that can be sealed. Return them to the freezer immediately.
Because I freeze fruits and vegetables in amounts for one pie, the following recipe makes two pies because I’m combining sour cherries and rhubarb. Don’t be overwhelmed by the quantity, though. The pies will get eaten, and if you’re feeling guilty about consuming too much pie, you can always give one away or cut the recipe in half.
One last note: this recipe uses fresh sour cherries that came in their own juice. If you use cherries you picked, you’ll need to cook them with a little water, store bought cherry juice, or liquid from cherries you juiced yourself to soften them and bring out their natural juices.
Shirley Tedesco’s Sour Cherry Rhubarb Pie
For the Crust:
4 c all-purpose flour
2 t sea salt
4 sticks cold, unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch pieces
Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Work butter into the flour/salt mixture until it resembles coarse meal. A pastry blender or two knives is recommended, but you can work quickly with your hands so the mixture stays cool. Add ice water a little at a time, forming a dough ball with your hands. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate while preparing the filling. Preheat your oven to 375° while the dough is chilling.
For the Filling:
4 c sour cherries, with their juice
4 c rhubarb, cut into half-inch pieces
3 c sugar (I used raw)
4 T kirsch
⅛ t mace
1 t sea salt
4 T butter
6 – 9 T corn starch
In a large pot over a medium heat, add the sour cherries with juice, rhubarb, and sugar. Stir gently to incorporate the sugar but not break apart the fruit/veg. When the sugar is melted and the mixture begins to steam lightly, add the kirsch, mace, butter, and salt. Stir gently.
Start with six tablespoons of cornstarch in a bowl and ladle hot liquid from the pot into the bowl until there is equal dry to wet. Stir the corn starch and juice until thoroughly blended, and then slowly pour it back into the pot. I pour the mixture into a particularly juicy area and whisk quickly to incorporate. Gently stir through the mixture and increase the heat to medium high to thicken the juice. Only use the remaining three tablespoons if your sour cherries and rhubarb are particularly juicy. Keep a close eye on the mixture so the bottom doesn’t burn. When the sour cherries and rhubarb are thickened, set them aside to cool.
Assembling the pie:
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide it into quarters. Return the other three to the refrigerator while working. Roll one quarter into a circle to cover the bottom of a ten-inch pie plate. Place the dough in the bottom of the pie plate and trim the edges to fit. Remove and roll another quarter for the bottom of the second pie and trim the edges.
Divide the sour cherry/rhubarb mixture between the bottom crusts by ladling it in. Remove and roll another quarter of dough for a top crust. Place it over the filling and tuck the edges of the top crust beneath the bottom crust. Crimp the edges between your fingers or seal them with the tines of a fork. Do the same with the last dough quarter for the second pie.
Place the pies on the middle rack of the oven with a baking sheet on the rack below to catch any drips. Bake the pies for 45 minutes, and then check them. You may need to keep baking in ten-minute increments until the crusts are golden brown. Allow the pies to rest for fifteen minutes to set up. Serve with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.