I have always adored pie cherries, sometimes known as ‘sour cherries’.
I like sweet cherries fresh when they’re in season, and occasionally frozen in smoothies and in ice cream. But for pies, cobblers, compotes, crisps or dried… give me pie cherries every time.
The variety most widely available – and my favorite, so far – is the Montmorency cherry. These are often used by orchards as a pollinator. Most orchards don’t have pie cherries available for sale, since they aren’t grown in large quantities, so sometimes it takes persistence to track down a source.
My mom, being a resourceful kind of lady, has managed to find an orchard that not only specializes in pie cherries, but has them available ready-to-process for on-farm pick-up one week a year. Their primary market is commercial bakeries and food manufacturers, so they offer only limited hours for locals.
My understanding is that the orchard crew starts harvest around 4:00 AM, bringing cherries from the trees to the processing shed. The cherries are then soaked in ice water for an hour or so, to firm them up before sorting and pitting.
The cherries are then washed, sorted, and pitted, loaded into four gallon buckets and shipped all over the country. They generally put five pounds of sugar on top of the cherries before sealing the lids, but if you go while they are packing, you can ask for the sugar to be left out.
They fill a four gallon bucket every 15 seconds, Mom says.
My only complaint is that they aren’t organic. This is the only fruit I put up every year that isn’t organic… but given the convenience factor, I’m willing to go with this one crop (just this one!) conventionally grown.
Once a year, we take a family excursion to orchard to pick up cherries for us and a few friends. We stay overnight near the orchard, make our six-AM cherry pick-up, pack the buckets in ice, then hightail it back home to get the cherries in jars and processed before mid-afternoon.
You can purchase pie cherries packed in water in the baking aisle of the store, but I’ll put these up against the store variety in a taste test any day.
This cobbler recipe is one of my favorites because it is easy, fast, and lets the cherries stand out. Plus, it only gets two pans dirty, including the one it bakes in. My mother has had this recipe in a hand-typed page in her recipe binder for years; I have no idea where it originated.
Here is the cast of characters:
See the end of this post for GF/DF tweaks.
First, drain the cherry juice into a skillet. Add cornstarch.
Whisk to combine, off-heat. If you try to add cornstarch to hot liquids, it generally doesn’t go well. Start with room temperature or colder.
Bring juice to a boil, and the cornstarch will thicken it and turn it to a gel. I like this photo, even with the flash – look at all that cool steam!
I generally add 2-4 T. sugar at this point, to sweeten the cherries. Here’s a shot with no flash:
I like to add half a teaspoon of almond extract. Almond and cherry is one of those flavor combinations that is mutually beneficial, like peanut butter and chocolate.
Or coffee and chocolate.
Or bacon and chocolate.
Fold in the cherries. Don’t whisk them in, or they’ll crumble!
While the juice is coming to a boil, I pour all the other ingredients into my baking dish.
Whisk those together just until combined.
When the cherry/gel mixture is ready, pour it on top of the batter.
Bake in 350° oven for 30-45 minutes, until the top is golden.
I like my cobbler straight up, but it’s pretty good á la mode, too. We go through between 10 and 20 quarts of pie cherries a year.
This recipe does well with GF/DF tweaks as well. Rice or almond milks seem to substitute best for the dairy. Any GF baking flour mix will work too, although I’d stay away from mixes containing bean flours, for taste reasons. Rice flour will work, as long as it’s superfine. The cobbler needs to be cooked about five minutes longer, in order to fully cook the GF flours.
Sucanat can be substituted for the sugar, but the topping will brown considerably darker before it is finished.
Here’s the original recipe:
|1 c. flour||1 t. vanilla|
|1 c. sugar||1 quart fruit (cherries, peaches, etc.)|
|1/4 t. salt||¼ c. sugar, to taste|
|heaping t. baking powder||½ t. almond extract, optional|
|3/4 c. milk|
Mix together flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, vanilla and milk. Pour in 10×10″ (or similar capacity) pan.
Drain fruit juice into sauce pan. Whisk in cornstarch. Bring to boil over medium heat. Remove from heat; stir in sugar and extract.
Fold in fruit. Pour fruit over batter.
Bake 350° till brown, about 30-45 minutes.