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Sunday, October 13

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Former Black Panther justice minister H. Rap Brown once noted memorably that "violence is as American as cherry pie." So what better way to celebrate our cultural heritage on the 4th of July than making pie from scratch?

That's exactly what we did! First stop: our local farmers' market to buy ripe Montmorency cherries from South Haven's Seedling Fruit stand. Montmorencies are smaller and tarter than their big Bing cousins. They're also less juicy, which makes them perfect for baking because the drier fruit will keep your crust from getting mushy.

Tart cherries also contain pain-relieving antioxidants. According to the National Cherry Growers and Industry Foundation, "eating about 20 tart cherries per day could reduce inflammatory pain and benefit the consumer with antioxidant protection." So pie is good for what ails you! Have another slice.

This recipe, from Saveur magazine (and adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Pie and Pastry Bible), makes a 9-inch pie.

Sour Cherry Pie
For the crust:
2 cups plus 3 tablespoons pastry flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
l/4 teaspoon baking powder
9 tablespoons cold cream cheese
12 tablespoons unsalted cold butter, cut into pieces
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1 tablespoon
sugar

For the filling:
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
7 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
Pinch salt
1 1/2 pounds fresh sour cherries, stemmed and pitted (4-5 cups)
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Whisk the flour, salt and baking powder together in a large bowl. Use your fingers to work the cream cheese into the flour mixture -- one tablespoon at a time -- until the mixture looks like coarse meal. Use two table knives or a pastry blender to work in the butter until it's broken up into pea-size pieces and evenly distributed. Next, add the vinegar and two tablespoons of ice water, tossing lightly with a rubber spatula. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Divide the dough into two balls, one slightly larger than the other, flatten each into a disk, and wrap each in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least an hour.

While the dough chills, prepare the filling. This process can be speeded along with a cherry stoner, a nifty little device that looks and acts just like a hole punch. Just set a cherry in the metal cradle, give your stoner a squeeze and voila! The pit just pops right out. Do this a couple hundred times, and you'll have 4-5 cups of cherries.

Stir the dry filling ingredients together in a large bowl, then stir in the cherries and almond extract (Amy is allergic to nuts, so we used double-strength vanilla extract instead). Set the cherries aside for anywhere from 10 minutes to 3 hours so they can macerate ("We should give them some privacy," quipped Jim).

Preheat your oven to 425° and place a baking sheet on the middle rack. Roll out the larger disk of dough on a lightly floured surface to make an 11-inch round, then ease this bottom crust into your 9-inch pie pan. Give your cherries a stir, then pour them onto the crust. Roll the smaller disk of dough out into a 10-inch round and cut it into strips. Weave the strips on top of the filling in a lattice pattern and fold the edges under. Brush the cream on the lattice strips and sprinkle with sugar.

Set the pie on the baking sheet and bake until the crust is golden brown, around 40-50 minutes. Let pie cool for several hours before serving. Then invite your friend, Nan, over for dinner and have her declare it the best pie she's ever had. Because it totally will be.

Even after all that effort, we still weren't sick of cherries and baked goods, and we had plenty of leftover ingredients. So for breakfast on July 5, we whipped up some cream scones and cherry compote.

Cherry Compote
1 quart pitted and halved cherries
1/2 cup apple cider or berry juice
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons brandy (optional)
2 teaspoons cornstarch

We got this recipe from the Seedling Fruit booth. Again, the cherry stoner is your friend. We skipped the cider because we couldn't find any, and the brandy because we didn't have any. The juice from the cherries is sufficient.

Mix the berries, sugar and vanilla in a saucepan and simmer until the cherries are soft, about 3 minutes. Stir the cornstarch into the simmering berries. Keep simmering and stirring until the cornstarch dissolves and the mixture thickens. The final consistency should be thicker than syrup but thinner than jelly.

Cream Scones
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter, chilled
1/2 cup heavy (whipping) cream
1 large egg
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup currants (optional)
1 egg mixed with 1 teaspoon water for glaze (optional)

This classic scone recipe comes from the book Simply Scones, frequently consulted in this house. Preheat your oven to 425°. Stir the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together. Cut the butter into half-inch cubes and distribute them over the flour mixture. With a pastry blender (or two knives), cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

In a small bowl, stir together the cream, egg and vanilla. Add the cream mixture to the flour mixture and stir until combined. Stir in the currants, if desired (we didn't use currants with this batch).

  

Lightly flour your hands, and pat the dough into a half-inch thickness on a lightly floured cutting board. Using a floured 2-1/2-inch diameter round biscuit cutter or the rim of a glass, cut out rounds from the dough and place them on a lightly buttered baking sheet. Gather the scraps together and repeat until all the dough is used. You should have 12-14 scones.

Lightly brush the tops of the scones with the egg and water mixture. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove the baking sheet to a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes. Using a spatula, transfer the scones to the wire rack to cool. Serve warm with jam, butter, clotted cream or a fresh batch of cherry compote. On the off chance that you have any left, let them cool completely before storing them in an airtight container.

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