My mother-in-law’s birthday was Saturday, and I wanted to make her a pie. Last year I tried a rhubarb pie for her birthday and things did not go well. The crust was nice, but the filling was floury and a tad underdone. She was very kind and ate a whole slice, but I knew it was not my best effort. I was determined to try again.
This sour cherry rhubarb pie is my success story. When you plan to make a pie for an entire year, many options and permutations are considered, and I really believe I got the best combination of ingredients possible right here, nestled in some lovely, flaky crust. I borrowed flavors I like from pie cookbooks I like: the bitters and allspice were both inspired by the sour cherry pie in Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book, and the crust I used was, of course, from First-Prize Pies. The addition of rhubarb to a cherry pie was my own idea (though I am certainly not the first person to put them together), and it worked out better than I could have hoped. I simply didn’t have enough pie cherries, sometimes referred to as sour cherries, to fill a whole pie, and rhubarb is my ultimate “fruit buddy” when I need more volume for pies, preserves, etc. A fruit buddy is a term I made up to describe a fruit that enhances the flavor or another fruit without competing with that flavor. Apples are often fruit buddies. Rhubarb works with every berry, so it wasn’t much of a stretch to choose rhubarb to, well, stretch my cherries. You’ll notice that I call for frozen fruit, which is partially because I made a fruit pie in March, but also because pie cherries have such a short growing season and are so juicy, specialized and delicate they are often difficult to find fresh, even in season. Lucky for us all, they freeze beautifully, as does rhubarb; I stock up on both in the summer for preserves, pies and cobblers. If you are lucky enough to have fresh cherries and/or rhubarb, by all means use that.
The cherry and rhubarb filling for this pie is precooked, meaning you happily avoid the possibility of surprise floury fillings, and you get to preview the flavor of your pie. If you would like your filling sweeter, add sugar 1/4 c. at a time and taste carefully before adding more. I use cornstarch as a thickener but know there are strong feelings in the pie baking community for both potato starch and tapioca. By all means, use what you know. I like the predictability of cornstarch and the beautiful glossiness of the filling. To be honest, I just couldn’t be prouder of this pie. It has everything I want in a pie: buttery, flaky crust; tart and warmly spiced fruit filling; and prize winning looks, if I do say so. If you have a birthday to bake for, have been looking for a dessert to make for Easter dinner, or just want some pie!, this sour cherry rhubarb pie is your answer.
Sour Cherry Rhubarb Pie
- 3 c. frozen pitted pie cherries, thawed
- 2 c. frozen rhubarb, thawed
- 1 1/4 c. sugar, evaporated organic cane juice if you can
- zest of 1 lemon
- 1 tsp. allspice
- 2 dashes of rhubarb bitters (optional)
- 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- 3 T. cornstarch
- double crust for a 9″ pie
Use a fine mesh strainer to drain the thawed pie cherries into a clean bowl and the rhubarb into a second clean bowl. Measure out 1/2 c. of reserved juice, either fruit or a mix of both, into another bowl. I know, I know, so many bowls. I drained my rhubarb into a Pyrex measuring cup and added cherry juice to make 1/2 c., which worked well. Add the cornstarch to the measured juice and mix well until you have a thin, pink, opaque sauce. Set the rest of the juice to the side; you may need it later in the recipe. If you have less than 1/2 c. drained juice, make up the difference with water.
Place the drained cherries, drained rhubarb, sugar, lemon zest, allspice, bitters (if using) and salt into a 3 qt. saucepan. Mix the ingredients together and allow the fruit to macerate until you can see juice in the bottom of the pan. Move the pan to a burner on medium-high heat and stir frequently as the mixture comes to a simmer. When you see steam rising from the fruit and can hear it beginning to simmer, add the cornstarch and juice mixture and stir thoroughly. The filling will not thicken without heat, so don’t be shy about turning up the burner, but don’t walk away! Stir constantly at this point with a focus on moving the fruit off the bottom of the pan. The fruit will thicken, become glossy, and bubble lazily. Once it looks this way, lower the heat if you raised it back to medium and cook for 1-2 mins. Don’t stop stirring. Remove the pan from the heat and continue to stir for 1-2 mins. If you think it is too thick, add reserved fruit juice 1/4 c. at a time until it reaches your desired consistency. When it is cool enough to taste, carefully do so and adjust sugar or salt as needed. Pour the cooked filling into a bowl, or just cover the saucepan, and cool completely on the bench or in the refrigerator before proceeding with the pie. The filling can be made several days ahead and kept in the refrigerator.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Set an oven rack in the center of the oven and place a piece of tin foil or a cook sheet on the rack under this center rack; this will catch any drips. Divide your dough in half and roll out one half to fit in your pie plate with about an inch of crust overhanging the edge. Pour the *cooled* filling into the crust. Roll out the second half of dough and use a pizza wheel, bench scraper or sharp knife to slice it into strips. As you can see, I used 6 thick strips. If you’ve never done a lattice top before (this was my first in decades, since 4H fair entries, I think), here is a helpful video from Saveur. It doesn’t need to be perfect or fussy, unless you like that sort of thing, but a lattice is a good idea for a fruit pie since it allows for easy venting. Trim the lattice edges and tuck the ends under your overhanging bottom crust, then crimp or style the edges. Brush the lattice and edge with whole milk, buttermilk or egg wash if you want.
Bake your gorgeous pie at 425 for 10 mins., then turn down the oven to 375 and bake for another 30 mins. The pie is done when the crust is golden brown. Remove to a cooling rack for at least 30 mins. Serve warm or at room temperature, with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream or plain. I thought this one was so good it didn’t even need a garnish, but I understand the allure of whipped cream.