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Sour Cherry Mash and Custard Pie

Sour cherries are generally brighter and redder than sweet cherries. They are also a bit juicier and softer. The tartness of the fruit and the cherry flavor stands out when you use sour cherries in baking. In contrast, it’s easy to overwhelm the flavor of sweet cherries and lose them in your baked goods.

The cherry tree in my small kitchen garden is, perhaps, one season away from beginning to produce fruit. That doesn’t stop me from cooking with cherries. Among my favorite cherry-based products are Sour Cherry Jam, Sour Cherry Pie, and Sour Cherry Syrup. My wife sometimes makes Sour Cherry Jelly … and her jelly led me to Cherry Mash and Custard Pie.

Cherry Mash Pie

To make jelly, you extract the juice from fruit, add sugar and pectin, and cook. After you extract the juice from cherries, you have some volume of damp mashed cherry bits that look ready for the compost heap. The idea of composting the mash irked me.

So, one season I rescued the mash and baked it up in a pie. I made the pie as I would a whole-fruit sour cherry pie, though I reduced the amount of flour in the pie filling. The juiced cherry bits were down almost a quart of liquid, so a few tablespoons of flour would be enough to thicken the filling.

A Sour Cherry is Hard to Find

Few people in the United States ever encounter sour cherries in their natural form. Most of these delicacies go directly from orchards to factories where they end up in pie fillings, jams, toaster pies, and other heavily-processed baked goods. I have never seen fresh sour cherries in a grocery store, and it’s hard even to find them at farmers’ markets and produce stands.

Why? For one thing, sour cherries tend to be “in-season” for about two weeks a year. Even if you live near them, you have to be on your toes to get ahold of any. Perhaps of even greater influence: sour cherries are SOUR! People who know sour cherries don’t generally eat them plain because the cherries are just that tart. If you put heavily-sugared raw sour cherries in fruit salad, each one you ate would be an unpleasant sour bomb exploding in your mouth.

The tartness of sour cherries makes them spectacular for cooking! Add sugar and heat, and the three combine to make delicious confections. The flavor of sour cherries is so intense that it holds up just about any way you prepare the fruit. Sweet cherries, in comparison, have a very mild flavor that gets lost easily when you mix in flour, shortening, sugar, and seasonings.

The pie was just fine but it lacked volume. So, the next time around I included custard in the filling. It added volume and made the filling a bit less dense. The pie was perfect! Here’s how to make your own:

A custard pie traditionally doesn’t have a top crust. I’ve made cherry mash and custard pies with and without top crusts. It’s good both ways, but I prefer it crustier. That notwithstanding, please make pie the way you prefer (unless you’re inviting me to dessert).

Line a Pie Pan with Dough

For someone who hasn’t made pie, the most challenging task is making a decent pie crust. Rather than write the instructions in every article I post about making pie, I’ve created instructions on a separate page.

If you have a favorite pie crust recipe, line a pie pan with dough and move along to the instructions for making filling. Follow this link for instructions on making pie crust the way I do it. I promise this is a stupid-easy way to make dough and it’s really hard to mess it up. When you’ve lined a pie pan, come on back and make the filling.

Ingredients for pie filling

3 cups mash left from juicing sour cherries
1 cup milk
1½ cups sugar (less if you like a tart pie)
2 eggs
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Sour cherries are generally brighter and redder than sweet cherries. They are also a bit juicier and softer. The tartness of the fruit and the cherry flavor stands out when you use sour cherries in baking. In contrast, it’s easy to overwhelm the flavor of sweet cherries and lose them in your baked goods.

Procedure for pie filling

In a medium-sized bowl, stir the flour into the sugar. Then add the milk and eggs and stir vigorously. I use a whisk and beat until the mixture is smooth and uniform. Stir in the cherry mash and the filling is ready. See? It’s all about the crust.

Finish the pie

Pour the filling into the prepared pie pan. Then add a lattice-style top crust. The instructions for that are back on the how to make pie crust page.

Put the pie on a baking sheet that can capture drips – a jelly roll or pizza pan works well, and bake it in a 375F degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour. The pie is ready when the crust is golden brown and the center of the filling is firm. I test a custard pie by jiggling it while it’s still in the oven. If the center moves separately from the rest, it needs ten to fifteen more minutes in the oven. Don’t be afraid to bake it for 75 minutes if that’s what it takes.

 

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