Liddie’s Traditional New Mexican Dishes: Cherry Pie

By LIDDIE MARTINEZ
Española Valley

Back in the early 70s my uncle secured a job as a foreman managing the cherry pickers crew for a large grower in Utah. That summer my Grandma went to help my aunt run their kitchen.

My sister Verna and I went everywhere with my Grandma and considered ourselves very lucky to travel by Greyhound Bus to visit all of our aunts and uncles on rotation once school was out. 

Seasoned travelers, we loved this special time with Grandma and anticipated the escapades we would have with our cousins over the summer. This trip stands out. 

The base camp was an oversized kitchen with long cafeteria style tables in the largest of the buildings.  Next to it was a barracks divided into two sections, men and women, with small, high windows and bunks filling all space. We claimed our bunks and quickly sought adventure with our cousins. The orchards began outside our door and there were cherries as far as the eye could see in all direction and in glittering shades or red and gold. 

We volunteered to pick for pocket change and quickly found the work challenging. Cherries picked without stems were outright rejected and for a full day’s labor our first pay resulted in just enough for each of us to purchase a soda and a small cache of candy and snacks. Our small band of quest seekers quickly found maneuvering tall ladders and managing baskets and buckets difficult and the first cousin that fell out of a tree and had the wind knocked out of him scared us half to death.

One day while walking back from receiving our pay and visiting the small county store, we noticed that all the irrigation gates were open and watering all the orchards except for one.  Thinking we’d be heroes for correcting the error, we lifted the gate and watched as the water gushed out and poured into the orchard. 

That night we were summoned to the foreman’s office and made to confess our crimes – because of our action, all the cherries would be lost in that orchard, which had been kept dry on purpose to pick the following day. Now fully flooded, there was no way to get the workers, trucks or equipment in because of the mud and water. We were all crying before the punishment was delivered.

The following morning, we and the kitchen staff walked to the orchard and picked all the cherries we could carry in bare feet. I can still see my Grandma and her muddy feet trying to salvage what she could of the lost crop and thereby lessening the blow her grandchildren had endured. We made cherry turnovers for all the worker’s lunches that day.

It is not possible for me to see a cherry and not think of this story even 45 years later.  

Do not let the look of this lattice pie intimidate you. You can make this – just give yourself ample time and follow the steps as slowly as needed – it is worth the work. Remember to use a bench scraper to gently loosen the pie crust after rolling; scrape the surface clean and re-dust with fresh flour before placing the dough back onto the counter and attempting to cut the strips. If the dough sticks to the surface, trying to loosen it after the cuts have been made will result in broken and disfigured strips.  

Also, you can make the pie filling the day or night before and chill it overnight. Cool filling will keep the pie crust from getting soggy. It also divides the required time for the recipe in half and spreads it out over two days making it much more manageable.

Cherry Pie Filling

  • 8 Cups Pitted Sour Cherries, frozen is okay
  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • ¼ Cup Orange Juice
  • 3 Tablespoons Corn Starch
  • 1/4 Cup Water (mix with Corn Starch to make a slurry)

Pre-heat oven to 425°F.

In a heavy sauce pan bring cherries, sugar, and orange juice to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes, increase heat to medium-high heat and add slurry slowly. Cook for 2 minutes stirring constantly. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.

Pastry

  • 2 Cups All Purpose Flour
  • ¾ Cup Cold Butter, cut into small cubes
  • 1 ½ Teaspoon Coarse salt
  • 1 ½ Cups Ice Cold Water, more or less

Mix flour and salt together and cut butter into flour using pastry blender. This is where your time should be spent. Keep at it until the mixture looks like coarse sand. There will be pieces of butter visible in the dough; that is ok.

About the liquid: you will never use the exact same amount of water in your crust. The weather, level of humidity and how your house is heated will all factor into the amount of water required. I always prep plenty of ice water and then water a plant with the remainder.

Never knead pie crust!  When you add the water, do it in small quantities. Rake your finger through the mixture and remove the sections that bind together until you form two (2) balls of dough. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for half an hour up to overnight.

Pre-heat oven to 425°. Roll out one dough ball to about an eighth of an inch in thickness and line pie plate with pastry. Trim with scissors to leave an overhang that is about 1 ½ inches from the edge. Fill, spreading the filling evenly with a spatula.  

Roll out second dough ball and using a bench scraper or spatula, loosen from the surface, lift using rolling pin then scrape the surface clean and re apply a dusting of flour before placing the pastry back on the counter. Using a pizza cutter, square the pastry then cut into strips. They do not need to be uniform.  In fact, having different widths creates a more interesting pattern. 

Place several strips of dough over the pie surface leaving the filling visible between strips. Fold back every other strip half way and begin the weave adding strips and rotating the alternate strips until the weave is complete on both sides of center. Trim ends of weave to lie flat on the edge of the pie plate. 

Brush edges with egg wash and fold overhang up, on top of the weave, pressing to seal while making your way around the pie. Flute. Brush top crust with beaten egg. Sprinkle with sugar and bake at 425°F for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350°F and bake for additional 38 – 40 minutes or until golden brown.  Cool completely before serving.

Cherry pie. Photo by Liddie Martinez

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