Cherry pie done w: piece
Photos by Donna
I don't think I'd really ever had a cherry pie before. When I was young my parents sometimes bought frozen cherry pies. Most pies for sale at bakeries and grocery stores seem to be made with the artificially colored and flavored gelatinized goop, poured out of cans into a pre-baked shell. Nasty stuff.

BCJ_0050 So what amazing good fortune it is to have a neighbor who not only has a thriving cherry tree, but who also tells his neighbors when the cherries are ripe and even sets a ladder in the tree.  Thanks, Marty!

A few days ago, a sultry summer afternoon, my daughter and I went to pick cherries and make a cherry pie.

Because the 321 pie dough ratio is embedded in my soul, it's finished in a snap.  Twelve ounces of flour would give me just enough for a pie with a lattice crust; we chilled it while we pitted the cherries.  Ripe and juicy, the pits popped right out. Because cherries are so juicy I knew I'd need plenty of corn starch, 1/3 of a cup, which, with evaporation in the oven, results in the perfect consistency. The cherries are tart, like rhubarb, and so I used about the same amount as I do for a rhubarb pie, 1-1/4 cup of sugar for 4 to 5 cups of cherries.  If you like it definitively sweet, you can go up to 1-1/2 cups of sugar. But I like it a little on the tart side to be balanced with some vanilla ice cream.

And that was it. No other seasonings.  Nothing.  I want pure cherry flavor in buttery flakey crust.

The cherries are fantastically vivid and so the visual appeal of making a cherry pie is more pleasurable than that of just about any other pie. Also there is nothing like the flavor of this amazing fruit—cooked with sugar it's cherry to the power of ten. I can't remember every being so pleased by a pie, recognizing as we ate that I was having cherry pie for the very first time.

Cleveland Heights Cherry Pie

12 ounce flour
8 ounces butter
4 ounces ice water
5 cups sour cherries, pits removed
1-1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup corn starch

Cut the butter into the flour, mix in the water just till a dough forms (don't over work it).  Chill the dough. Roll out three quarters of the dough to fill a pie dish, save the rest for the lattice crust (see this post on rhubarb pie for more detailed instructions on making a lattice crust, important to interlace the strips).

Combine the cherries, sugar and cornstarch and toss.  Pour the mixture into your pie shell, lay your lattice over this and pinch the edges to form an appealing rim.  Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes then reduce the temperature to 350 and conintue baking for another hour or until the filling is thick and bubbling. Hands off until it's cooled a little!  Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Chery pie making 2 Cherry pie crust making

49 Wonderful responses to “Cherry Pie”

  • Richard

    You are very lucky to have that kind of produce available. Sadly, there will be little to no Hill Country peaches this year due to a freeze. Alas, we’re stuck with little to no fruit now.

  • sbp

    Love cherry pie, and boy are you right — most commercial pie, even from reputable bakeries, is made from canned goop. Because of the high juice factor, I would lightly coat the bottom crust with melted white chocolate (neutral flavor) before filling. Seals the crust, keeps it crisp.

  • Bbq Dude

    One of the things I really like about the photos you post is that they’re not brutally staged, and look like real food, rather than magazine food. That pie looks delicious, yet real (not the faux-perfect varnished pies you see in magazines and even some food blogs).

    Thanks for that.

  • luis

    THANK YOU, Michael… I don’t care what Bourdain says about you. YOu are a good man!

  • Charlotte

    I have a grove of pie cherries in a vacant lot down the street from me — I put up pint after pint in simple syrup in the summer and eat them on granola and yogurt all winter. They’re my absolute favorites — and I’m a little worried this year because we had a freeze just as everything was blooming out. Sigh. Love cherries.

  • Sean Kelly

    I don’t know about Cleveland Heights Cherry Pie. The east side is pretty exotic.

    I grew up on the West Side. How would North Olmsted Cherry Pie be prepared?

  • Don

    I love cherry pie. I’ve had much better luck with tapioca than cornstarch, however.

  • Dan Cole

    What determines whether you par-bake the pie crust or just pour the filling into a raw one, as you do here?

  • AnotherMichael

    Looks great. If you run short on fresh cherries, might I suggest my grandmother’s ratio? She makes a 111 ratio pie; equal parts fresh, dried and canned cherries, which gives a nice blend of flavors AND eliminates the need for tapioca or cornstarch. Simple and fast…

  • Susan

    Now you are talking my language! I love to bake and pies are a good test of a person’s ability. We always say as easy as pie but a good pie crust is not so easy. One can easily overwork the dough or tear it. I have been teaching folks how to make pie dough online ever since I got on the internet. I have a lot of tricks and tips that I have learned at my mom’s and grandma’s knees. Cheers!

  • Tags

    So wonderful to have a cherry pie made with butter. So sad that you can count on one hand the bakeries in any given area that don’t mix it with hydrogenated shortening or use hydrodgy exclusively (the norm).

  • Victoria

    This looks glorious. Can you tell us, please, how do you pit the cherries?

    MR, I am reading The Blood of Strangers. Thanks for passing along the recommendation. I LOVE it. I worked as a PA in an emergency room for a while so I can really relate to the stories. Great writing.

    By the way, I have been making Four-Minute Egg Gribiche from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook to make potato salad. I steam new potatoes with the skins on and make the Egg Gribiche, changing the herbs depending on what I am serving it with – dill for eggs, tarragon for steak – to dress the potatoes. The little bits of egg white from the four-minute egg are lovely. There are minced shallots and chopped capers, and heady herbs. The potato salad is delicious. Two caveats – let the potatoes cool a little before you dress them so they don’t absorb all the sauce, and chill the potato salad completely, preferably overnight. I recommend that you try this especially with the July 4th weekend almost upon us.

  • Stewart Pequignot

    Try making one with a teaspoon of almond extract. This really enhances the cherry flavor.

  • Alex

    I can’t hear the words ‘Cherry pie’ without thinking of Twin Peaks. Looks wonderful

  • S. Woody

    Your neighbor has the right idea – grow the fruit so it will be totally fresh, and share as much as possible.

    My Grandfather had several lemon trees in his back yard, which meant we’d get bags filled with lemons delivered every time he and Grandma came to visit during the summer. Mom would turn them into lemon meringue pies and lemon cakes. He loved them both.

    Meanwhile, in our back yard grew five pommegranite bushes. Some of the fruit would be shared with the neighborhood kids, with us sitting on the curb eating the seeds and generally creating a wonderful mess. The bulk of the annual bumper crop would be juiced (my annual job – getting out those seeds and juicing them through the food mill – resulted in a beautifully stained set of clothes) which Mom would then turn into pommegranite jelly. The jars of jelly would find their way into the pantries of friends and relatives every Christmas, or earlier if they couldn’t wait.

    I’m still in love with those flavors. The kids in your neighborhood are lucky, that they’ll always know what cherries really taste like.

  • Karin from Cleve and missing it in VA

    I’m so glad to read that you got your daughter in on the picking.

    When I was very young, we used to take family outings, as far away as New York state to pick fruit for canning.

    As a child those were long, miserable afternoons rather spent in the company of friends in the sprinkler, not with a bunch of old family members picking fruit.

    Those are now of course some of my best childhood memories. It was one on one time with a family member I might not have otherwise enjoyed.

    Of course, I now subject my own children to the same tourture. Not so lucky as to be surrounded by extended family, but time with me. Time begrudgingly spent with me now will be a special memory later. (Not that they’re convinced of that yet!)

    Not to mention a freezer full of sour cherries.

  • Lizzie Longenecker

    Those cherries have an amazing color.

    Funnily enough, I’m eating fresh cherries right now as I read this. I love cherries!

  • ruhlman

    Jim, good point. I use salted butter so don’t add salt. Pie crust should have a little salt.

  • Natalie Sztern

    Do you know that I have never seen or eaten a sour cherry. I don’t even know if Montreal gets any so I now have another ruhlman project and my husband wants to know who is this ruhlman that you are forever in the kitchen.

  • Jason Sandeman

    Fantastic photos as always. Does Donna fuss over the lighting, staging?

    As for montreal, I am not sure where to get sour cherries. I will use regular cherries, and cut back on the sugar.

    I thouroughly enjoyed Ratio, and this recipe is great for showcasing it.

  • Ktag

    I pick my own cherries for cherry pie, too 🙂

    My crust is a little different… I add about 1/2 tsp salt and 1-2 Tbl sugar.

    When I first started picking cherries, my kid asked “WHY? I don’t even like cherries”. THEN I made a pie and jam and she LOVED it… she said it didn’t taste anything like the tasteless “red-flavored” stuff in the grocery store.

    There is NOTHING in the world that compares to a real cherry cherry pie. The stuff in the stores should be illegal.

  • erik

    What about bing cherries? I’ve never had or seen a sour cherry, but I’ve got plenty of bada-bings. I assume they are sweeter, so just cut down on the sugar?

  • Biblioto

    Picking cherries and making pie is an annual rite at our house. Stewart is right, a splash of almond extract does “brighten” the flavor, as my grandmother used to say.

  • Paul Kobulnicky

    Michael … since you live in an Eastern European culture dominated city, take some extra sour cherries and make cherry preserves. With an Eastern European loaf of bread and sweet butter it is almost as good as cherry pie and culturally iconic.

  • Geof

    Man, that looks good. If I weren’t already two thirds of the way into Tom Douglas’ Triple Coconut Cream Pie today I’d be making that pie right now. I’ve honestly been scared of pie crust my whole adult life. I tried a Cooks’ Illustrated one a couple of years ago for a cherry pie and failed miserably. When you posted the Rhubarb Pie with the 3-2-1 crust I decided to give it a try again and it worked perfectly. I have now mastered pie. I’ll have to find some fresh cherries and this one will be next week’s pie.

  • Kate in the NW

    Cherry pie and ice cream rocks. It’s the BLT of dessert.

    Someday your kids will treasure those pictures of your hands making that food for them. Every time we visit family I take pictures of the food prep – though they’re nowhere near the quality of Donna’s, of course. But still – the photos are great memories and proof positive of love and devotion.

  • Katy

    thank you, thank you, thank you for posting this! One of my greatest joys growing up was going to my grandmother’s house to pick sour cherries (she had four huge trees!) and we would make cherry pie, strudel, and kuchen (I owe all my baking skills to her).. I miss her and I miss those trees and it’s very hard to find those good sour cherries these days… thanks for posting the recipe, now I have a hankering to make a good cherry pie and will have to find some of those cherries! (I never liked that gloppy too-sweet canned stuff either) 😉

  • Tracey

    I second Don on using tapioca in place of corn starch. I think the fruit tastes better that way. Cherry pie… what a wonderful summer treat.

  • Rita

    OOhhh I’m so jealous! I used to have a cherry tree, but then we moved, and I can now only dream of sour cherry pies! King Arthur makes a thickener that I use for fresh cherry, peach and blueberry pies. That reminds me — there’s one piece of Peach Pie left! (I’d better get it before my husband wakes up!)

  • Lamar

    Dammit, Ruhlman! We don’t grow cherries in the middle of the pacific. Way to make a man jealous. I’ll probably pick up your book now, though. I’m always intrigued by other people’s crust methods.

  • Chris Flett

    Great post. I actually took some time yesterday and followed your method using beautiful BC cherries. I cheated and put the pie dough in the food processor. First time making pie. The bottom crust was perfect, the top lattice was a bit thick. Overall, a fantastic piece. Can you substitute any fruit for cherries (i.e. peaches, stawberries, etc.)?

  • cybercita

    the rains in new york have been wreaking havoc with the berries and cherries, i’m afraid. the sour cherries i tried at the union square greenmarket on wednesday were watery and tasteless. no cherry pie for me this summer unless things improve.

  • Shannon L

    Although I hate cherries raw, cooked they are one of my favorite things. I am not sure about making a scratch cherry pie filling. I don’t really know a type that is sour cherrys nor do I own a cherry pitter. And the cherries we get in Florida are not the best. Hmm, lots of things to think about, but I know I am going to make this

  • kakaty

    I’m really hoping for some cherries at the Shaker Square Farmer’s Mkt tomorrow because those pics are making me drool…I’m going to have to make one.

  • suzanne

    picked from yard trees like that one
    when I was 4
    and after I read and looked
    I found an orchard only 70 miles away
    going picking on Tuesday!

    I brush egg white on the bottom crust
    to maintain crispness

  • Lorrie

    I agree with Stewart–the almond extract really does bring out the flavor. When I was growing up in the NW, my grandmother would always add almond extract to her cherry pies, dumplings and in her canned bing cherries. I just used discovered the use of Kirsch (cherry brandy) in berry pound cakes:
    Thanks for all the cherry posts. Your column is a slice of summer!

  • Rasa Malaysia

    I can’t bake cherry pies. I tried to a couple of weeks ago and failed soooooo miserably…all the cherry came oozing out from the pie, in the wrong way. It was a mess! Yours look so perfect!

  • Camusman

    Ruhlman, now you did send a piece of that pie over to Marty, didn’t you? It would have been the neighborly thing to do!

  • amber

    I made my very first pie from scratch earlier this year – blueberry, my husband’s favorite for his birthday. I was nervous that it wouldn’t turn out, especially as we had the in-laws coming over to help eat it. Paired it with homemade vanilla ice cream. After the first bite, my mother-in-law turned to me and said “This is delicious! I mean, it’s like real blueberry pie!” I don’t think anything else has brought me that feeling of accomplishment in the kitchen to date. 🙂

    Love the pictures of the cherry picking and the finished pie!

  • Nadine

    My very first real pie ever is in the oven (cherry). I’m strangely excited. I can hardly wait to see how it turns out.

  • marcj

    Thanks for a wonderful post. After eating it I ran to the market to buy some fresh cherries. The whole thing took quite a while (mostly just waiting for it to cool) but my god, so totally worth it!

    Only sweet cherries were local & available but the result was still quite good. I used about half as much sugar, and in retrospect should have added a bit more cornstarch. (And I added salt and sugar to the crust, ’cause I’m like that). But in any case, the results were awesome.

  • Mike

    I just bought some sweet cherries – since they aren’t sour, I take it I should cut back on the sugar? If so, how much should I take out from the recipe?

    Also, thanks for this post. Pies are going to be my summer baking project, and now that my favorite fruits are hitting their seasonal peak, I imagine I’ll be eating a lot of pie for the rest of the summer with this recipe.

  • Michael and Kristy

    Michael, Myself and Our Grand Daughter went out and picked pie cherries off of a tree that we have never payed attention to. Our Grand Daughter and I proceeded to make the Best Cherry Pie Ever. I did not think that the crust was going to make it, until she yelled coming into the house and stopping in front of the oven and looking in “Grandma, have you looked at the Pie?” to which I responded “No, Why?” She replied with “Grandma, it looks like a Real Pie!” I said Thank-God, that’s what we were striving for-Mission Accompished!!!Awesome!!!!!!!

  • cybercita

    it’s a couple of weeks later and the cherries have improved considerably, so i made one for my neighbor’s birthday. i had never made a lattice crust before, but i thought it was a good idea, so i tried it. it came out perfectly. i’m also a fan of tapioca in cherry pie. also a tablespoon of kirsch.

  • Colleen

    Hey! I think you are a big help in making a good cherry pie….its such a great pie with ice cream…I always pick just the real ripe dark red cherries for the best favor and color…