Pie-a-Day #6: Rainier Cherry Pie

Erika Penzer Kerekes blogs at In Erika’s Kitchen and writes the LA Cooking Examiner column for Examiner.com.

Rainier cherry pie full sqLast year my kids and I discovered Leona Valley, a fold at the edge of the high desert near Palmdale filled with cherry trees. Every June (and this year possibly into the beginning of July) a dozen or so family-owned orchards open their gates to city folks only too happy to pick. It isn’t the cheapest way to acquire cherries, but the memories are priceless:  tromping up and down the hilly orchards, seeking out the most perfect clusters, filling huge plastic buckets with cherries for the whole neighborhood, emerging with unmistakable evidence on your face of having enjoyed a few along the way.

And so, last June, two moms and four very happy little boys spent several hours filling buckets of sweet red and yellow cherries. We brought them home, divvied them up, and panicked a little. The joyous realization that we had fruit for a dozen pies was overshadowed by the enormity of the task ahead: Who exactly was going to pit all those cherries? (Hint: My fingertips were red for weeks.)

When blushing yellow Rainier cherries appeared at the Santa Monica farmers market last week, I only hesitated a moment before buying a few pounds. A year had gone by. I’d recovered enough to pit one pie’s worth. I love the sweet, mild Rainiers in pies and tarts, because less sugar means you taste more cherry and less syrup. And then there’s the other great thing about Rainiers: They don’t stain.

I’m not great with a rolling pin, so I use an easy press-in dough for this pie; it’s flaky but has enough structure to stand up to the heavy layer of cherries. You’re probably less intimidated by pie crust, so use whatever recipe you like. Don’t be put off by the use of olive oil in the crust below – it helps the texture and lends a hint of the exotic.

Yellow cherry pie

6 cups yellow Rainier cherries, pitted
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons sugar
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, toss together the cherries, cornstarch and 1/2 cup sugar. Leave the cherry mixture to macerate on the counter while you assemble the crust; the sugar will draw out some of the liquid in the cherries and will mix with the cornstarch to make the juicy cherry filling.

In a pie plate, mix together the flour, 2 Tbsp of the sugar, and the salt with a fork. Using the same fork, whisk together the melted butter, olive oil and 1/4 cup of the milk in a measuring cup. Pour the liquid over the dry ingredients in the pie plate and mix them together with the fork. If the dough seems dry, add the remaining milk a little at a time. When the dough comes together in the middle of the plate, stop mixing. Use your fingers to press the dough over the bottom and up the sides of the pie plate.

Stir up the cherry mixture once more, then turn it into the unbaked pie crust. Bake the pie about 45 minutes, or until the fruit is wrinkled, the juices are bubbling, and the crust is a gorgeous golden brown. Cool before slicing.

  • Wendy Allegaert

    I need to move to Calfornia, clearly. My mouth is watering already. YUMMMY.

  • Wendy – I've been saying that you need to move to California for years!

  • Jules

    This looks fabulous. My daughter Bronte and I are going to make this pie today after camp. And I love the fact that Rainier cherries don't stain (my husband is a little neurotic)! Plus I get to use this GREAT cherry pitter that my dear friend Erika lent me years ago. Then I couldn't find it so Erika bought another one…..and then it appeared back in my kitchen. Seriously…..I didn't steal it! Now every time I see it in my drawer, I think about how blessed I am to have such a great friend (and one who is such a great cook and gives me awesome recipes).

  • Laura

    My taste buds are salivating, Erika. I live nearby and I still don't seem to find time to see you let alone enjoy your decadent culinary delights! Miss you and I hope someday to be cooking with you!!

  • Pie is one of my favorites and this one looks so delicious. A blue ribbon winner for sure!

  • Erika, this pie is art. From the roasted golden skins of the hand-pitted cherries, to the rustic olive oil crust, I am salivating to devour this beauty.

  • guest

    for the people who think they are not good with a rolling pin, try rolling the dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper. Makes everything easier and transfer to the pie dish is a breeze.

  • Looks so yummy and what memories Erika! Thanks for sharing!

  • Congrats!! GREG

  • This sounds absolutely delicious Erika! I'm quite partial to Rainier cherries, so I'm definitely going to have to try this.

  • Paulette

    OMG! I didn't realize one could make a pie with the Rainier cherries. I love them and I will definitely have to try this recipe. Thanks!

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