It is a real shame, in my opinion, that the only variety of cherries one can buy fresh (i.e. not made into conserves or alcohol of some sort) in stores these days, are the beautiful and shiny sweet cherries. While they are great for eating fresh – if you are lucky to find some good ones at a market – they are somewhat worthless for cooking anything, and that is really sad, because the other kinds of cherries – namely, the sour Morello cherries, while a bit too tart to eat as a fruit on their own, are utterly amazing, in both food and drinks (not to mention that they color food an amazing, lurid red color which does not fade from being cooked).
The reason for lack of availability of raw sour cherries is simple – they squish easily, and are not luxury eating fruit the way, for example, raspberries are, and so they are not worth cultivating and shipping for retail sales. They are still grown in various regions for manufacture of conserves and liquors, and can probably be bought at rural markets regionally, but not everywhere and not usually and not ever out of season.
But, in light of the lack of their general availability, it is very lucky for me that T’s parents have a tree. During our last visit there, his very nice mother has offered that I can pick some for us – which we did by grabbing and greedily pulling handfuls of cherries into a plastic bowl in near-darkness on the way home.
And so it came to be that I was making a cherry pie. To me, a sour cherry crumble pie is the epitome of a lazy late-summer dessert, the counterpoint, if you will, to the ice-cream of early summer – and few things can compare to the sour cherry pie, in its sharply aromatic red and tart glory.
Before I go on with the recipe, I have to make it clear that it’s not actually a “recipe” at all in the sense that it is not a list of set quantities of things which go into the pie – rather, it is a list of necessary ingredients, and a general guideline of process, because when making a crumble pie, there is very little precision needed, which makes it a blissfully easy and relaxed thing to bake.
Essentially, you do five things (or four if the cherries are pitted):
- Pit (remove stones from) your cherries. You’ll need a cherry pitter or olive pitter tool for this, and there isn’t anything I know of which works as a substitute.
- Mix your filling (ingredients to follow).
- Make your crumble topping (same).
- Assemble pie and bake in oven preheated to 200-210°C (or 180-190°C for fan oven) for 20-30 minutes, or until the crumble topping is nicely browned and the filling is bubbling up thickly around the edges.
- Serve (some cream whipped with a teaspoon of real-vanilla sugar does it for me) and eat.
What goes in it and how to do it:
To make the filling:
- Take enough pitted cherries to form a generous layer in your chosen pie dish (I had about 3 cups of pitted cherries).
- For each 2 cups of cherries, add 1.5 teaspoon cornstarch/cornflour, 1 teaspoon good-quality vanilla sugar (or add regular sugar and a drop of real vanilla), and 1-3 tablespoons of sugar, depending on how sweet or tart you want your pie to be (I use 2 tbsp/2cups = total of 4 tbsp sugar).
- Mix in a bowl and allow to stand while you make the crumble topping.
To make crumble topping, mix approximately:
- 2-3dl plain flour
- 50-75g cut-up unsalted butter
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 2-3 tablespoons granulated sugar (I like golden to brown varieties – mixing in some vanilla sugar or cinnamon is strongly encouraged!)
- Rub the above together with your fingertips until the texture visually resembles coarse crumbs.
- Next, pour your cherries into a pie dish and even them out somewhat.
- Sprinkle your crumble topping over the cherries, trying to get it more or less even, but it is not a huge problem if it does not cover the cherries entirely.
- Place in preheated oven and bake.
You can also separate the crumble filling and topping into single-portion ramekins or mini-casserole dishes – simply place them on a baking sheet and bake as you would a large pie form, but reduce the baking duration by 5-10 minutes (I don’t know the size of your ramekins, so watch them closely as they near end of baking time).
So, there you go. This is about as easy as baked dessert gets without resorting to shortcuts such as prepared pastry dough – and this is really, really gorgeously tart and goes great either warm, just from the oven, or cold the next day.