Bada Bing!

If you were to ask me what I did this week, I wouldn’t have too much to report, quite frankly. Work, go home, wash clothes, pit cherries, pick up CSA box, pit cherries, cook, pit cherries. The theme, you see, is that I pitted a hella lotta cherries. Hubs seems to think that’s really funny; talking about cherries seems to make boys laugh.

But when you find them being offered for $2.50 a pound, you really do feel inclined to load up and by load up, I mean fill up two big ol’ buckets worth of self-picked Michigan sweet cherries. Bada bing, bada boom! Fortunately, the weather was great and we had 4 pickers, because I’m quite certain that for every 5 cherries I picked, one ended up in my mouth rather than the bucket (if you look closely, you can see the red stains on my fingers – busted!)…

Notwithstanding, we still managed to head away from Lemon Creek with about 10 pounds of cherries, and if you can believe it, we didn’t even go for wine-tasting (not there, at least!). I wasn’t quite sure what I’d do with them all, although I knew many would be eaten in raw form, and some would turn into jam because I have a thing for preserving those Michigan fruits, and although I’m supposed to be eating “healthy” foods I couldn’t for the life of me stop thinking about making my first (fresh) cherry pie. And let’s face it – pie from fresh berries is a bazillion times better than the canned “mix” and the frozen varieties and really, do you think I have space in my freezer for the rest of these cherries? Negativo, especially when I just shoved 20 pounds of meat in there earlier this week from our CSA delivery.

Plus, this weekend we just happen to be heading up to Minnesota to visit Cheryl & Luke and since Cheryl is usually the pie master (she makes 3 of them every Thanksgiving for all of us to consume), I thought it’d be mighty swell of me to pay her back, a little bit, for all her years of rolling dough and toting pies across two states. That way, we’re not sitting around here with fresh cherry pie staring us in the face, calling to us from the kitchen, and truthfully, making it difficult to see straight, let alone get anything accomplished.

It’s really a win-win situation: I get pie, I get to see Cheryl & Luke, I get to, weather-permitting, play on their boat and doggy-paddle around the lake, and in sharing, I don’t have to stuff my face with all 8 slices of this beast. Wait a cotton-pickin’ second… maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all! Over the next few hours, I’m really gonna have to sit down and think through this whole sharing business – they’d never know, would they?

Cherry Pie with Lattice Crust
Adapted from Bon Appetit, June 2008, via Epicurious; serves 8

since this pie hasn’t been eaten yet, i can’t vouch for the taste of it, but reviews of the original recipe were stellar. this is a GREAT pie recipe, and because i think cherry and vanilla belong together, i did double up on the extract. also, i don’t believe in pie crust without shortening AND butter, so that change was made too. the crust itself was the best smelling crust i’ve ever smelled in the oven, with plenty of butter and shortening, which i think is key to a good crust. the lattice topping might look hard, but i’ll be honest and admit it really wasn’t (i probably should have continued to make you think it was hard, huh?!). i found an awesome tutorial from the Simply Recipes blog and would suggest you use that as well, unless you’re already “in the know”.

printable version

2 1/2 c all purpose flour
1 T sugar
3/4 t salt
1 stick (8 T or 1/2 c) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
8 T (1/2 c) chilled vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
7+ T ice water

1 c granulated sugar
3 T arrowroot powder*
1/4 t salt
5 c whole, pitted, dark, sweet cherries (~2 lbs)
3 T lemon juice
1 t vanilla extract
1 T (about) milk
1 T turbinado, or “raw” sugar**

pulse flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor to blend. Add butter and shortening and pulse repeatedly until small pea-size clumps form. Add 7 T ice water and pulse until dough holds together when small pieces are pressed between fingertips, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if dough is dry. (alternatively, this can be done by hand or using a pastry blender, but it’s gonna take longer!) Gather dough together; divide into 2 pieces. Form each piece into ball, then flatten into disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes or until needed. (You can keep it in the fridge for 2 days, or even freeze it and let thaw overnight. But, let it sit out for a few minutes to soften before you are ready to roll it out.)

position rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 425 F. Whisk 1 cup sugar, arrowroot powder, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Stir in cherries, lemon juice, and vanilla; set aside.

roll out 1 dough disk on floured surface to 12-inch round (i like to roll mine out on the plastic wrap it was refrigerated in so i can more easily transfer it and not worry about the dough sticking to the counter). Transfer to 9-inch glass pie dish, making sure to push dough to bottom edges of dish. Trim dough overhang to 1/2 inch. Roll out second dough disk on floured surface to 12-inch round. Using large knife or pastry wheel with fluted edge, cut as many strips from dough round as you want for your filling (I think i did 12). Transfer filling to dough-lined dish, mounding slightly in center. Arrange dough strips atop filling, forming lattice (see above); trim dough strip overhang to 1/2 inch. Fold bottom crust up over ends of strips and crimp edges to seal. Brush lattice crust with milk. Sprinkle lattice with turbinado sugar.

Place pie on rimmed baking sheet and bake 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375 F. Bake pie until filling is bubbling and crust is golden brown, covering edges with foil collar if browning too quickly, about 1 hour longer. Transfer pie to rack and cool completely. Cut into wedges and serve.

*arrowroot powder is similar to cornstarch in that it’s a thickener, but it’s much better for pies because it’s more clear, thus your pies will be prettier if you use it. also, if you ever make pies to freeze, arrowroot holds up to freezing while cornstarch dosen’t. the down side? it costs a little more and is harder to find. i got mine at Penzey’s, but you can also find it at The Spice House (Chicago area for both) or online.

**turbinado sugar is great for pie toppings because the crystals are bigger than granulated. if you don’t have it, you can certainly use regular sugar.

Love in a Bottle

fresh blueberries

Chris & I suddenly found ourselves without plans this past weekend and, after a somewhat relaxing weekend prior to this one (other than standing in the cold pouring rain at the opening night of Lollapalooza) it seemed like a good idea to hit the road and head over to the other side of the lake.

I’d already planned to take the day off on Friday, so Chris took it off too and off to Michigan we went. I mean, it is blueberry and peach season after all, and the folks from the lower peninsula AKA “the mitten” sure know how to farm. Turns out, they also know how to harvest some grapes.

me in the apple orchardchris picking blackberries

Our little venture was perfect. We got lucky and scored a cute little B&B in Harbour Country for one night. We used the majority of Friday and all of Saturday to taste wine (and of course buy it, again managing to procure almost two cases despite our two case + purchase in Napa earlier this March), drive the roads that instead of the smattering of skyscrapered skylines are always comforting with their heavy peppering of corn fields and pastures, and get our pick on for some dirt cheap seasonal fruit.

The wineries in southwest MI are refreshing. They aren’t snooty about their wine, but they’re proud and rightfully so. While nowhere near the complexity and richness of the Napa grapes, the MI vintners have a way of making quality varietals at reasonable prices. Our favorite place is Karma Vista and their Stone Temple Pinot (yes, the name isn’t bad either!); I will say we also went to quite possibly the weirdest winery ever and hands down the second cookiest place I can remember (the first being a tired trophy shop on the west side of Chicago – Cheryl and I decided we’d never be the same after that experience). Nonetheless, we loaded up and even discovered some new varieties including Traminette, Bonamego & Chambourcin.

bucket of blueberries

When we weren’t partaking in the grapes of Michigan, we were tackling some of the local fruit and produce farms. Having cleared out some freezer space, I was looking forward to loading up and having some good fruits in the middle of winter. I also wanted to try my hand at making preserves, and had a hankering for a blueberry buckle I’d recently read about. If truth be told, you just can’t get enough of the fresh seasonal fruits, especially if you can pick them yourself and save a little cash. We spent plenty of time at various farms: Lemon Creek for nectarines, Crane’s for peaches, the B&B for wild blackberries, and Earl’s for blueberries. I’m already thinking about how to weave a trip over for Honey Crisp apples and some pears come Fall….

preserve making

Aside from the wine, the mounds of cheap blueberries, peaches, nectarines, and wild blackberries, the real treat of the weekend was the quality time I got to spend with my favorite person. Sure, we live together and see each other every day, but the little road trips, the moments of silence in the car other than Wilco in the speakers, those are the instances I appreciate us. Those are the times I really take it all in, that’s when I sit & think, realizing I am so crazy in love. And so peaceful, so content and so downright slap-happy.

I want to take those memories, all of them, and bottle them up. I want to remember them when times get tough, if they get tough, so that we never forget those moments and so that we use them to build our relationship up rather than to ignore them and break it down. I want us, unlike so many others, to survive. I want us to be this happy forever – just from picking berries, together, in the hot August sun.

These days, love isn’t always enough. Being married isn’t always enough, and seeing each other every day surely isn’t always enough. But being in love, being in love is always enough.

bottled uppreserves

Fruit Preserves
each recipe makes 2 pints

Preserves are downright awesome. It’s a great way to make use of fresh, local fruits. And when you pick them yourself, a great way to preserve the memory as well. If you follow the canning instructions below, the preserves will last up to 1 year. The recipes can be easily modified, but do NOT try to double them as the pectin won’t work with large quantities.

I made three types of preserves: Peach-Cardamom, Blueberry-Lemon Verbena, and Blackberry-Sage.

6 cups of fresh fruit
additional flavorings (for spices/dried herbs I’d recommend 1 t; for fresh herbs 1 T)
1/4 cup fresh lemon or lime juice
sugar to your liking (I used 1 cup sugar, 1 cup Splenda but I saw some recipes that called for 4 cups of sugar; you can also use honey or other sweeteners)
pectin (measure according to package instructions; I purchased pectin for lower or natural sugar jam that also used calcium water that was provided in the package)

special equipment
a large pot for processing canned fruit
another large pot for making preserves
a medium pot for keeping lids warm
something to grab the hot jars (tongs or a special canning tool)
canning jars with sealable lid (has gummy lining) and ring (two pieces)
funnel, optional if you’re neat

Wash the fruit. Peel any peaches, nectarines, etc. Measure 6 cups fruit and place in a large bowl. Mash fruit to desired consistency (based on whether you like your jam chunky or smooth). Mix lemon or lime juice in with fruit and any other flavorings.

In a separate bowl, combine your sugars. Before you start making the jam, make sure you’ve cleaned/sanitized the jars (dishwashers are great here; keep the door closed so they stay warm) and have put the lids in a pot of simmering water (to soften the sealant) and brought another large pot of water to boil for processing.

In a large pot (I used dutch oven), combine the fruit mixture and heat to boil. Add pectin and about 1/2 of the sugar. Mix to dissolve and bring to boil again. Add remaining sugar and dissolve. Let the mix boil rapidly at least 1 minute.

Check the consistency. The jam will ‘gel’ more once it cools, so take a cold spoon and spoon out a little. Once it cools, see if the jam is to your liking in terms of consistency. If not, add in a little more pectin, 1/4 t should work and bring to boil again.

Once the jam is ready, place funnel (if using) atop warm jar and ladle jam into jar leaving 1/4 inch (or more) space. Place seal and ring atop jar and close. With tongs or other device, lower the jar into the large pot of boiling water, making sure it’s submerged fully, and leave for ~10 minutes. (The measurements should make about 2 pint sized jars of jam.)

Remove jars and cool completely, upright and in draft-free space. At some point, you’ll hear a popping sound. If you hear it once, it means the jars sealed successfully. If you keep hearing it, that’s bad and you’ll need to re-process with warm lids.