When the Cherry Man stopped at our house, my sisters and I welcomed him with shouts of joy. Mom was also happy to see him. The truck had a white insulated box with hand-painted cherries decorating the doors on each side. When the driver opened a door to get a can of frozen cherries for my mother, fog rolled toward the ground.
I think that the driver used dry ice to keep the cans frozen on his way from the Door county peninsula in northeast Wisconsin to his customers in the northwestern part of the state where we lived. The Cherry Man was tied in popularity with the Watermelon Man in our family. Both brought exotic foods that we couldn’t grow at our homestead north of Hayward.
They weren’t cheap, but they were tasty. I know that watermelons were a dollar each. This may not seem like much, but a dollar in 1955 had about the same buying power as nine dollars in 2017. You can buy a really nice watermelon for five dollars today. I never learned what the cherries cost, but three or four dollars for a ten pound can represented a major investment.
Incidentally, frozen tart or “pie cherries” as my mother called them are not less expensive today than they were when I was growing up. In fact, they may be more expensive when you can find them. Local grocers do not carry them, and you can easily pay ten dollars a pound when you order them on line. Plus shipping of course.
I don’t think that my father complained about the cost of the cherries, because he liked cherry pie and cherry crisp as much as the rest of the family. He would definitely have approved of the cost of canned cherry pie filling, a product that was not available when I was growing up. I think that a cherry pie or crisp made with fresh or frozen tart cherries tastes better than one made with canned pie filling, but if you can’t afford or even find fresh or frozen cherries, canned filling does just fine.
This recipe proves it.
1 can cherry pie filling
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 cup old fashioned oatmeal
1 cup + 2 T all-purpose flour
12 T salted butter (1 1/2 sticks)
Preheat the oven to 375º.
Use a fork to blend the sugar, flour and oatmeal together in a mixing bowl. Chop the cold butter into a half inch dice and cut the butter into the oatmeal mixture with the fork or a pastry blender. When all the dry ingredients have been worked into the butter, you should have dough with crumbs the size of peas with a few larger clumps.
Put half of the dough into a nine inch pie plate and press it with your fingers to make a bottom crust. Bake the crust on a center shelf for twelve to fourteen minutes until it just starts to brown on the edges. Take the crust from the oven to cool for about fifteen minutes.
Spoon the filling evenly over the crust. Use a fork to break up the remaining oatmeal dough as you sprinkle it over the filling. Put the pie plate on a center shelf in the oven and bake the crisp for fifteen to seventeen minutes until the topping is lightly browned.
Cool on a rack and serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
NOTES: We think that the best way to serve crisp is slightly warm, so we put each serving into the microwave for a few seconds before adding the scoop of ice cream. Of course you could do as we did when we were kids. We crowded around the hot crisp and waved our hands to cool it until Mom relented and dished it out.
If you are using unsalted butter, stir a quarter teaspoon of salt into the dry ingredients before cutting in the butter.