Updated: August 26, 2012 6:05AM
For cherry lovers, it’s a somber summer. Dealing with Michigan’s shortage of the season’s crop makes for some hard times. Usually accountable for 75 percent of the nation’s tart cherry supply, the pretty white-blossomed trees that line Michigan’s eastern shores have hit a dry spell due to the drastic weather changes occurring during this past spring.
Now, as the peak of the season approaches, the once-pretty white-blossomed trees are studded with small fruits, meager in size and sparse in quantity. Many Michigan U-Picks have closed off their cherry markets for the season and the price for tart cherries sold at roadside markets has skyrocketed.
Cherry lovers all across the Midwest are mourning the Montmorency’s misfortune.
And when it comes to making the cherished July cherry recipes, a little scrimping has to come into play. Instead of bushels of those ruby reds ready to whip into jams, juices, wines, preserves and tarts, just a couple of rather pricey pints will probably be your only cherry expense this season — and they won’t go far. Depression-era frugality makes a strong niche in this seasonal cherry drought, so use those cherries wisely. Forget the clafoutis, the homemade ice cream topping and the cherry mascarpone cheesecake — at least for this season. Make the one recipe that you know will showcase the big flavor of that small amount of cherries in the best way possible: a cherry pie.
It wasn’t just about begging for handouts at soup kitchens and standing in bread lines during the Depression; it was about making good use of the items in your very own kitchen. This cherry pie with an almond crumble topping does just that. Maybe the pint of fresh cherries won’t be enough to fill some recipes’ requirements, but if you have a bag of frozen ones left over from last summer, they can be added to this scrumptious pie filling without losing that fresh-fruit flavor. The secret just might be in the almond crumble topping. A complementary flavor to the cherry, that slight amaretto astringency fills out the flavor of the tart cherries, deepening it without creating a pie that is too heavy for the heat. If fresh cherries are scarce, the almond crumble will make up for that lost flavor.
While you might not be able to relish in a bumper crop of cherries this summer, you can certainly put your few fruits to good use with a classic recipe.
CHERRY CRUMBLE PIE
6 cups fresh sour cherries, or about 2 pounds frozen sour cherries, thawed
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon kirsch or almond extract
2/3 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup sliced or blanched whole almonds, coarsely chopped by hand or in a food processor
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
11/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons cold shortening
3 to 4 tablespoons ice water
To prepare the crust, pulse the flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor to mix. Add the chilled butter and shortening and pulse until the butter is pea-sized. With the machine running, add the water and the pulse until the dough forms a ball. Empty onto a floured board and form into a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Roll on a floured surface and fold into pan. Crimp edges. Makes enough for one 9-inch pie.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Make the cherry filling by mixing the cherries with the cornstarch, salt and kirsch or almond extract. Taste to see if you need more sugar. Pour cherry mixture into dough-lined pie pan.
Prepare the topping by blending the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut in butter until small clumps form and ingredients are well-blended. Spread evenly on top of cherry filling.
Bake pie for 30 minutes. Reduce oven heat to 400 degrees and bake for another 30 minutes, or until center is bubbling and thick. Let cool to room temperature.
Crust recipe adapted from Perfect Pie Crust, “Barefood Contessa Family Style,” Clarkson Potter, 2002.