Photos By Mark West
I have no idea how I'm typing this post at this moment. My brain and body should be lying in a slump on the shiny living room floor, leaking random food facts into small uninteresting puddles at my head and feet. That's what 5+ hours of studying for the RD (Registered Dietitian) exam will do to a girl. But somehow, I feel alive and fresh after going through hundreds of study flash cards with my nutrition partner-in-crime Nathanya. Over some prime Seattle java at Ballard's Caffe Fiore, we quizzed each other for hours, taking in the summer sunshine on the cafe's back porch.
The last few days have been both exhausting and energizing at the same time. It's that feeling that only comes in summer when you're out using your body in ways that would seem strange or uncomfortable in the winter months. The feeling of letting everything in, taking deep breaths of air and stretching out with bare legs on the grass, instead of contracting in tight postures, arms crossed, against the cold and the damp. Even studying takes on a different feeling, when you know that you can lay outside on a blanket, or end the study day with a bike ride from Ballard to West Seattle. On the way home at rush hour this evening, a bit caffeinated but elated with the day's progress, I caught the West Seattle bridge right when it was turning for a large tanker to pass into Elliott Bay. Nine times out of ten I'll get lucky and go over without delay, but today I was in a light enough mood to not bother with feeling annoyed. When I approached the gate, I could scarcely believe the crowd of cyclists that was waiting to cross, commuting back home from working downtown. In cold, wet, and heat, year-round I cross this bridge. In the wintertime or in the rainy fall I'll meet maybe 5 others when waiting for the bridge to turn, but today I counted 60. I guess I'm not the only one feeling the summer in her belly on a 70 and sunny Monday.
Mark and I have been walking more in the neighborhood, taking advantage of the long evenings and dry pavement. Last week we found ourselves meandering on the side streets, keeping an eye out for a few of the cherry trees that we've been seeing with ripening fruit. There was a street in particular that I had been stalking as of late, watching two trees with Rainiers and Bings ripen their fruit, and now letting them fall to the ground. Clearly, trees whose owners didn't have the time or inclination to see the delicious possibilities... but I'm a bit of a free-fruit opportunist, of course, and I wasn't about to let this chance pass me by. I knocked on the door of the home, and an older man with a big white beard (Fruit Santa?) answered. He gave us permission to pick as much as we'd like. Seven pounds heavier, (not including a few more pounds of Rainiers in our bellies) we returned home.
We had just enough Bings for a pie, and the Rainiers I made into a jar of conserve. The results were pure summertime. I used a crust recipe that David Lebovitz uses, an all-butter affair that I wholeheartedly believe in... because who wants anything but the Real Thing when it comes to dessert? Shortening is for...well... cheaters and liars. So there.
I used 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry in addition to the white flour to give the crust some texture and additional flavor. I made the filling very haphazardly, using instinct and a tad bit of experience to tell me what to throw in the bubbling mass of garnet-colored fruit cooking on the stove. The sweet smell expanded to fill the entire kitchen, and then the whole house. It was a deep, rich sweetness that nothing but dark cherries could achieve. I cooked down most of the fruit, but left some of the firmest and sweetest cherries fresh so I could combine them with the sweetened and thick filling. This was a trick I read and committed to memory a few years ago. What a pity to throw into a pot all of this perfect peak-season fruit and cook it to smithereens! It seems so unjust. Instead, you cook 2/3 and leave the remaining fresh. I would have left them all fresh, but there was clearly too much liquid in the fruit that would have made an imperfect pastry.
Here's Lebovitz's crust recipe, with my own pinch-of-this recipe for cherry filling following. If you're not in the Northwest or up in the U.P. (yoyoyo shout out to Michigan) and don't have a bumper crop of cherries in your backyard, I can't imagine this recipe not working just as well for strawberries.
Makes enough for a 9 or 10-inch double crust pie
This is taken from Lebovitz's book Room for Dessert. The explanation is a bit lengthy, but truly necessary. I've found that if you want a truly flaky crust, it's all in the details. Keep it cold, kids! No joke! When he says cold butter and ice water, he means it. I would even go so far as to refrigerate the flour until cold as well. This cuts down on the time you have to chill the discs of dough. For my pie, I baked the bottom crust for about 10 minutes to make sure it would bake through, as I knew I wouldn't have to bake the pie for as long as I would a pie without a pre-cooked filling. It worked out well, even if the top crust edges got a little droopy as I was forming them, the butter in the dough melting from the heat of the hot pie tin. I have yet to master the perfect pie edge!
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter, cut into cubes about 1 inch square and refrigerated
6 to 8 tablespoons of ice water
1. Mix together the flour, salt, and sugar. Use an electric mixer equipped with a paddle attachment, a food processor, or a hand-held wire pastry blender.
2. Add the chilled butter to the dry ingredients and continue mixing just long enough for the cubes of butter to become incorporated into the flour and broken up into roughly 1/4-inch-size pieces. Add 6 tablespoons of the ice water all at once and continue mixing until the dough just begins to hold itself together. If necessary , use the remaining 2 tablespoons water.
3. Form the dough into two balls. Wrap each one in plastic, and flatten them into disks about 1 inch thick. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before rolling out.
4. To roll out, fill, and bake a double-crust pie, first have your filling ready. Position the oven rack in the center of the oven, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
5. On a lightly floured, surface, roll out one of the disks of dough into a circle 14 inches in diameter. Fold it in half and drape it into a 9 or 10-inch pie dish. Unfold the dough, centering it, and gently press it snugly into the dish with your fingers. Cut away dough that is overhanging the edge of the pie plate with a sharp paring knife. Add the prepared filling, smoothing it evenly in the shell.
6. Roll out the other disk of dough into another 14-inch circle. Dip a pastry brush or your fingers in water and moisten the exposed edges of the dough in the pie tin. Center the other piece of dough over the filled pie tin. Working all the way around the pie, lift the lower crust and tuck the edges of the upper crust between the edge of the lower crust and the rim of the pie tin. Work your way around the pie again, crimping the edges decoratively by repeatedly pressing downward with one thumb, while from the side, the forefinger and thumb of the other hand pinch the dough around the thumb pressing down.
7. Bake the pie in the preheated oven for 50 to 60 minutes, until the top is browned and the filling juices are thick and bubbling. Cool before serving.
Bing Cherry Pie Filling
Makes one 9 or 10-inch pie
Approximately 6 cups fresh Bing cherries, pitted (tip: they taste better if they're free)
About 2/3 cup Sucanat (evaporated cane juice or white sugar)
Juice from 1/2 lemon
3-4 tablespoons pectin (such as Sure-Jell, may substitute arrowroot starch or cornstarch)
Reserved: 1 1/2 cups fresh bing cherries, pitted
Put the 6 cups cherries in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the Sucanat and bring to a boil. If you'd like to sweeten to taste, start with 1/2 cup sugar, and taste the product right before the end. You can always add more sugar according to your own preference, and the ripeness of the fruit will determine this as well. After the cherries and their liquid begins to boil, turn the heat down to a strong steady simmer, leaving the pan uncovered. At this point you're cooking off the excess liquid and concentrating the fruit. Once it thickens and condenses (maybe 30 minutes or so?) add the lemon juice and pectin, and stir until well-combined.
Place the fresh pitted cherries in the bottom pie crust (par-baked or not) and pour the filling over until it reaches about 1/2 inch below the top. Put the top crust over and pinch the edges (as stated above), make 4 large slits in the crust and bake until browned. Serve with vanilla ice cream.