Wednesday July 17, 2013 | 06:30 AM

If you savor sour cherries, don’t pass them by if you see them at farmer’s markets because their season is fleeting, and they will be gone in a week or two. 

I look forward to their arrival each year because it allows me to make one of my favorite summer desserts, sour-cherry pie. The main source for them in our area is from Mike Farwell whose Uncle’s Farm Stand at the Wednesday and Saturday Portland farmer’s markets where they’re on display now.  When I spoke to him last week he said it’s a bumper crop this year , but they always sell out fast.

For a pie, you need about three to four half-pint containers, which equal around four cups, the perfect amount for pie. The biggest hassle, though, with cherries is to pit them. But there are several sources for pitters that do a wonderful job.  Both Bed Bath and Beyond and Leroux Kitchen carry the Progressive Pitter, which removes the pits four at a time, making the chore of preparing about 2 pounds of cherries take  around 20 minutes. 


Your best friend for cherry season is the pitter, this one made by Progressive.  It also pits olives

When you buy the cherries it’s best to pit them as soon as possible or they can be stored in a covered container refrigerated for a few days before pitting.  The pitted cherries also freeze beautifully.  Lay them out in a single layer on a large cookie sheet and put in the freezer until they’re partially frozen.  Then transfer to heavy plastic freezer bags.  They will last well into the next cherry season. 

Sour cherry pie begs to be served with vanilla ice cream.  Recently I discovered two store-bought brands that are outstanding.  One is Batch from Massachusetts, a  natural ice cream without preservatives containing milk, cream and eggs.  It has an incredibly creamy texture.  Whole Foods carries it.

The other is a local ice cream from Stone Fox Farm Creamery from Monroe, Maine.  Its texture is  creamy and the vanilla is intensely flavored.  Either way, serve the pie slightly warm from the oven with a generous scoop of ice cream. Jordan's Farm iin Cape Elizabeth sells it.

Maine Sour Cherry Pie
Servings: 8

Pastry Dough
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Pinch salt
1 heaping teaspoon sugar
8 ounces (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) cold fresh lard, available at Rosemont Market
1/3 to 1/2 cup ice water

4 cups sour cherries, pitted
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons instant tapioca
1 tablespoon butter

It's important to let the cherries macerate in the sugar, lemon, instant tapioca and extract to produce the juices in which they'll bake

Pastry. Prepare the dough several hours in advance or the day before.  In the work bowl of a food processor add the flour, salt and sugar and pulse a few times to mix the dry ingredients together.

Cut the butter and lard into small pieces and place over the flour in the work bowl. Process by pulsing 8 to 10 times until the mixture resembles small peas.  Alternately use a pastry cutter.  Gradually add the water, pulsing after each addition until the dough just holds together but before it turns into a ball; the dough should be moderately moist, adding more water if necessary. 

Transfer to a lightly floured work surface and form the dough into a rough ball.  Split in half and knead each piece with two to three light strokes until it holds together well.  Flatten slightly and wrap each in plastic and refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees

Filling. When ready to assemble the pie, put the cherries in a large mixing bowl and add the sugar, almond extract and lemon juice and mix gently with your hands until well combined.  Let rest 5 minutes then add the tapioca; mix again.  Let rest for 15 minutes.  Then mix again.

When ready, roll out the dough to fit a 9-inch pie plate, fill with the cherry mixture including the juices, dot the top with butter and prepare the lattice top by rolling out the second dough into a large rectangle about 1/4 inch thick.  Cut about 12 or more strips 1-inch wide.  Lay strips across the top, then fold back each alternating strip and start by laying a perpendicular strip across the middle, adding more strips, pulling back alternating strips of dough so that the criss-cross pattern develops, making sure that the strips alternate above and below each other to weave the lattice top.  With a kitchen scissors, cut the excess dough to allow for an inch overhang, and then crimp with thumb and forefinger for an attractive border.  

Preparing a lattice top is tricky; as you can see I missed a spot when weaving; if that happens, it's hard to undo but it's not a fatal error

Lightly brush the top with milk and then sprinkle sugar over the lattice.  Put the pie on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes; rotate the pie and continue to bake for at least 20 minutes more or until the crust is golden brown and the filling bubbly.  Remove to a cooling rack and serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Sour cherry pie just out of the oven, all bubbly and fragrant

Local sources: Sour cherries, Uncle's Farm Stand, Portland; butter, Maine Country Butter, available at Whole Foods; lard, Rosemont Market


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About the Author

John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.

In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.

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