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Sour Cherry Slab Pie

john barry

My kids associate cherries with their Grandpa Paddy because he always has some in his kitchen or brings some when he comes over for dinner.  He's willing to pay the premium when, at the very beginning of cherry season, none of the stores have them on sale.  And he buys them right up until we stop seeing them at the market here in Chicago. Maybe it's just my father-in-law, but I have the distinct impression that the Irish love cherries. For one thing, cherries grow in Ireland, which, like the area where we live, is plagued with a short or non-existent growing season for many types of fruit. Sour cherries appear in our farmer’s market one week and seem to be gone the next.  Just like garlic scapes, they are one of summer’s special and fleeting gifts that I like to stock up on and squirrel away for the rest of the year.

This year I bought a whole bunch of sour cherries and froze them all. Since they are great for baking I didn’t even feel bad about not being prepared to do something with them as soon as I brought them home. I hate that feeling - too much pressure. You do not need to be pressured by your produce.

A week or so later, my brother and his girlfriend were visiting so I thought a pie was in order. I think I can safely say that a few years ago I hadn’t even heard of slab pie. I definitely didn’t grow up with them. But lately, I’ve been seeing them everywhere. Pie is great because technically, it’s baking, but it’s also a lot more like cooking than other kinds of baking. You can play a little fast and loose with amounts and really, you should, since it all depends on how sweet and juicy your fruit is, how deep your pie pan is, what type of crust(s) you are using. Slab pie is just like any other pie except that the ratio of crust-to-fruit favors the crust-lover in you. You can feed a crowd with one and skip the plates, as a slab can easily be eaten out of hand.  Below is the recipe I used. I’m a believer.

My brother and Isla (looking as if she knows he's about to do or say something funny). 

My brother and Isla (looking as if she knows he's about to do or say something funny). 

Sour Cherry Slab Pie

Enough for one slab pie baked on a quarter sheet pan (about 9” by 13”).  

Serves 10-12.

One recipe of your favorite pie dough – enough for a double crust pie.  I use this one. Or store-bought pie crusts.

5 cups sour cherries, pitted (fresh or frozen; if frozen, defrost and drain first)

1 cup of sugar

1/6 - 1/4 cup cornstarch

Juice of half a lemon

Pinch or two of salt

One egg, beaten with a tablespoon of water

Coarse sugar for sprinkling

I used cherries from the farmer’s market that I had previously pitted and frozen (Whole Foods also carries frozen cherries so you can make this any time of year, just reduce the sugar if you can only find sweet cherries).  I let them defrost in the refrigerator overnight and took them out to drain in a colander while I worked with the dough.

I got my cherries from a grower in Michigan who gave me the best tip. Place cherries in a bowl of ice water for at least 40 minutes before pitting them.  When they are very, very cold, they are much easier to pit. I implore you to try this.  Staring down a huge pile of cherries that need pitting can be daunting.  An ice water bath makes prepping them so much quicker and easier. 

Roll out pie dough for the bottom crust on a lightly floured surface. Try to work quickly so that everything stays cold.  Don’t worry about it looking perfect.  Overworked dough will be tough instead of flaky so just do the best you can.  Rolling the dough between two pieces of wax paper or plastic wrap makes things easier, less messy, and it prevents the incorporation of too much extra flour from your work surface that can also impact taste and texture of the dough.  Once the dough is rolled out in a rectangle that fits the sheet pan, transfer it either straight to the pan or line the pan with parchment paper (I didn’t bother lining mine) and then place the dough in, pushing it down into the corners and up the sides of the pan.  Leave the dough-lined pan in the freezer while you finishing preparing the filling.

Place your drained cherries in a large bowl and add the sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch and salt.  Mix to combine and set aside. 

Roll out the top crust to about 1/8 inch thickness and cut into strips.

Pull your sheet pan out, pour your filling in and working quickly add the strips in a lattice pattern to the top.  As you can see, mine came out looking “rustic” so I’m obviously not the expert in how to make a lattice crust.  If you want yours to look flawless, there are tons of tutorials with great photos on the web. For the record, I still thought mine was a beauty and my family was kind enough not to diss my latticework.

Now, put the whole pie back in the freezer for 20 minutes and preheat your oven to 375F.  Once your oven is hot and your pie is nice and cold, take it out of the freezer, brush the crust with egg wash, sprinkle with coarse sugar and place on a larger sheet pan (to catch any bubbling juices that may overflow) and bake for about 45 minutes (start checking at 40 minutes).  Remove from the oven when the filling is bubbling and the crust is nice and golden brown.    

My egg-washed pie entering the oven. 

My egg-washed pie entering the oven.