Cherry Pie: The Fruit of Love’s Labors

Cherry Pie: The Fruit of Love’s Labors July 4, 2013

The cherry pie I’m making for the holiday weekend will be dedicated to love.

The cherries themselves are the fruits of love.  Cherry blossoms are attraction, first glances and flirtation. Cherries are the sweetness of a love matured, the juice of its physical manifestation. Cherry pie takes it a step further, makes it serious. There’s a lot of work in a pie, if it’s done right.

My father already has put a lot of love into the cherries. He was the one who planted the cherry trees. He picked the cherries, then pitted each one with a tool he made from a dowel rod and a nail. Such a tedious task; so much love in action, to pit enough cherries for a pie.

It will be a small, seven-inch pie. My sweetie and I are both cutting back on sugary desserts. But it’s coming up on the anniversary of our first date, as well as being a four-day weekend for us both. I think that qualifies as a special occasion that can be commemorated with pie.

Making a pie was my Grandma Lucile’s way of putting her love of family into action.  Pie was the ending to all Sunday family dinners. Grandma saw that there were at least two kinds; one apple, one from a seasonal fruit. Rhubarb was spring. Cherry, then blackberry, then peach for summer. Pumpkin for Thanksgiving, maybe a chocolate custard in winter. For Sunday, the pie would be served with ice cream—Prairie Farms, unless my cousins and I had begged hard enough for the adults to bring out the hand-cranked ice cream freezer.

Those pies saw my grandparents’ marriage through war, drought, Depression, prosperity and procreation. Grandma Lucile and Grandpa Bill were married 69 years. Was it the pie? Well, a good pie will make even a bad day better. And Grandma Lucile made great pie.

I never saw Grandma use a recipe for pie crust. Make weekly pies for a few decades and the recipe is remembered. I know she did use Crisco, which my modern self considers an abomination. I usually make an oil pastry crust, which calls for liquid vegetable oil mixed with water. It’s temperamental and hard to handle. It tears easily and never looks as good as a practical Crisco crust. But I love the flavor.

I have on occasion used the Pillsbury prepared crust; just roll it out and place it gently in the pan. I will not admit to this unless asked directly. Every time I use one, I can feel Grandma Lucile giving me the stinkeye from beyond the grave. She did not take shortcuts with pie.

She also did not pre-cook the bottom crust, which some people prefer to do. Grandma had much to accomplish in a day, and babying a pie crust was not on her list. Roll out the crust, drape it on the pan. Use a paring knife worn to a steel wisp from decades of sharpening to cut the crust’s edges smooth. Fill it, cover it, crimp it, bake it. Then on to the next task. That pie was on its own, and most of them knew better than to come out with a soggy bottom crust.

I tried for years to get my crusts crimped in her trademark pattern. She tried to teach me, but I never got it quite right. I gave up and developed my own style, pressing the edges together with a fork. Until last year.

I made a pie for my Shy Engineer’s birthday. We hadn’t been dating long enough for me to feel comfortable bringing a present, and I was too broke to buy much of anything. I considered a baklava, but I’d never made one. Also, he told me his mother made her own phyllo dough. I knew I couldn’t compete with that. So I made an apple pie, his favorite.

On a whim, I decided to crimp the crust Grandma Lucile style. I hadn’t tried in more than a decade. Nor had I seen it done in the five years since Grandma died.

And I got it, the first time. At last, the magic had been passed from her fingers to mine.

For my special Summer Love Cherry Pie, I’ll be using the filling recipe from Marilyn Moore’s The Wooden Spoon Dessert Book as a base. Everything I’ve ever tried from that book has been excellent. I’ll also add just a whisper of cinnamon to the recipe. Cinnamon belongs to the Sun, and the Shy Engineer is a Leo. Cinnamon can be used to draw prosperity, love and success. All are good wishes for those we love–and for ourselves.

As I stir the cherries, butter, sugar, cinnamon and flour in a sturdy saucepan, I’ll be thinking of the many kinds of love it represents. Hoping the energy of each will cook into it. My father’s love in tending the trees and pitting the cherries. The love that has blossomed and borne fruit between me and my sweetie. Grandma Lucile, married to the same man for 69 years. Grandma Lucile, making all those pies for all those years of family gatherings. And, of course, pie. I do love pie.

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