It’s National Cherry Pie Day!

Who knew? National Cherry Pie Day! I learned about it at 3 pm today. I had already missed the cherry pie for breakfast and cherry pie for lunch part of the celebration. You can be sure I wasn’t going to miss cherry pie for dinner too!

There was once a time, not so very long ago, that there was no way on earth I would have started to bake a pie at 4 in the afternoon. Heck, until 2011 I didn’t even know how to bake a pie, much less whip one out in an hour.

That was before I spent a year teaching myself to make pies. I read old cookbooks, collecting bits of pie baking wisdom. I invited myself into the kitchens of great pie bakers, in three counties, and watched them mix pie dough and roll out crust. I found pie taste testers in my neighborhood and beyond. And I baked, and baked, and baked.

Pie baking with Arlene Lawson

Pie baking with Arlene Lawson

I asked my sister, Dora, how she learned to make good pies. She told me, “I baked a lot of bad pies.  That’s the way to learn.” So I baked more pies. My pie testers ate up every last bit of crust, wiped their mouths and said, “That was good pie, but I think you need more practice.”  So I went home and tried again.

Working my way through a list of fruit pies I tried double crust pies and open faced pies. I tried cooking the filling on the stove top and I tried putting it between the crusts partially frozen. My vintage cook books became tabbed with bright pink sticky notes marking pages of recipes to try. Notes to myself reminded me “if the crust is too crumbly decrease the amount of shortening” and “add two tablespoons of butter to the pie dough for a golden brown finish”.

My friend Kathleen, reigning County Fair winner, Best in Class, Best in Category, Grand Champion Cherry Pie Baker extraordinaire, taught me to make cherry pie. There were other cherry pie recipes before hers and after hers until somewhere along the way it occurred to me that I ought to not mess with something so good. So, when the occasion calls for Cherry Pie it is Kathleen’s recipe that I pull out.

In Kathleen's kitchen making my first latticed top crust.

In Kathleen’s kitchen making my first latticed top Cherry Pie.

Not quite ready for the county fair

Not quite ready for the county fair!

Along the way I burnt cherry pies and I undercooked cherry pies. Fillings boiled over in the oven, and steam vents split open so far that it looked like a gaping wound. I forgot the salt and I forgot the butter.

When your crust looks like this it's a sign to throw it away and start over.

When your crust looks like this it’s a sign to throw it away and start over.

But I never admitted anything to my taste testers. I just served up the pie and watched as they ate every crumb, wiped their mouths and said, “That was good pie, but I think you still need more practice.” I didn’t matter how bad I thought the pie was, it still got eaten. That’s when I learned that the real trick to learning to make pie is this: Get a bunch of taste testers who love pie so much that they don’t tell you the truth for fear the river of pie will go dry.

Boiling over is a sign that the pie is done. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it!

Boiling over is a sign that the pie is done. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it!

May all your cherries be pies today on National Cherry Pie Day!

Kathleen’s Cherry Pie

Pastry for 9″ Two crust pie

2 cans (16 0z each) Tart Pitted Red Cherries, drained

1 1/3 cups sugar

1/3 cup flour

2 T butter

1/4 tsp almond extract

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Prepare pastry.Mix sugar and flour. Stir in drained cherries. Turn into pastry-lined pie plate. Sprinkle with almond extract and dot with butter. Cover with top crust that has slits cut in it. Seal edges and flute. Bake until crust is brown and juice begins to bubble through the slits in the crust, 35-45 minutes. For fresh cherry pie, substitute 4 cups fresh red tart cherries for the canned cherries.