Every summer, in sour cherry season, I fill the freezer with as many sour cherries as I have the patience to pit. I try to make them last through the fall, leaving just enough to make one final sour cherry pie for the first day of the next year. It's a little reminder that summer really will return.
Sometimes I make a crostata. Sometimes I make a tart. Yesterday, for some reason, I thought I'd like to start the year with a sour cherry crumb pie. This morning, eating the first piece, the most intense flavor memory came floating back. I was 8 years old, eating dinner with my parents at The Cookery on the corner of University Place and 8th Street, spooning up their sweet, slightly salty cherry crumb tart. The Cookery was owned by my friend Bertha's uncle, who sometimes let us waitress there - just for fun - when we were in junior high. I thought it was enormous fun, and looking back, I realize that was my very first restaurant job. One bite brought it all back: a very fine way to welcome 2011.
Sour Cherry Crumb Pie
I hate blind-baking pie crusts, but in this case it’s worth it; you don’t want to waste your precious sour cherries on a sad, soggy bottom. So make a pie crust and blind bake it. While the crust cools, make the cherry filling by melting about 3 tablespoons of butter in a skillet and adding 4 to 5 cups of frozen cherries (along with their liquid), and 2/3 cups of sugar. This will thaw with remarkable speed, and as soon as it does, add a squirt of lemon juice, a pinch of salt, and stir in a paste made of 3 tablespoons of cornstarch and 2 tablespoons of cold water. Bring to a boil, stirring gently. In about 2 minutes, when the filling becomes clear and thick, turn off the heat and allow to cool.
Pour the cherries into the pie shell.
Make a crumble by melting a stick of butter and stirring in ¾ cups of sugar, ¾ cups of flour and a pinch of salt. Strew across the cherries and bake in a pre-heated 375 degree oven for about 40 minutes, or until the top is crisp and golden.
It would be wise to bake the pie on a foil-lined baking sheet; sour cherries have a tendency to bubble over the crust, and cleaning the sticky liquid off the bottom of the oven is no way to greet the new year.