Morello Cherry Crumb Pie

A friend introduced me to Morello cherries a few years ago. I didn’t know what they were, but he told me that they could be used to make cherry pies. The next time he visited Trader Joe’s in Woodbury, Minnesota, he brought me a jar of the dark red cherries as a gift.

The pie cherries I knew were bright red cherries that my mother bought every summer from traveling fruit vendors. Thanks to the Internet, I learned that the cherries I was familiar with were Montmorency cherries. They belong to the Amarelle family of sour cherries, but I also found out that Morello is the name of another large family of sour cherries that make delicious jams, crisps and pies like those made with Montmorency cherries.

Amarelle cherries were brought to America by settlers from England long before the Revolutionary War, and the Montmorency variety became the most common sour cherry planted by settlers as they moved west from the Atlantic. Morello cherries, on the other hand, are recent immigrants.

The dominant variety grown in Hungary, the Balaton cherry, was introduced first to cherry growers in Michigan by Dr. Amy Iezzoni, a professor at Michigan State University, in 1984. It is now the most popular commercial Morello cherry in the the United States, but some other varieties of English Morello cherries such as the Kansas Sweet and Northstar are grown in backyards or smaller orchards.

Morello cherry trees flower a bit later than Amarelles, which means that Morello trees have an advantage in areas subject to late frosts. For someone who likes to cook and eat, however, the biggest advantage of Morello cherries is that canned Morellos make wonderful cherry pies and crisps any time of the year. You can buy them online or at some supermarkets. In our area, Aldi and Trader Joe’s both carry them.

Here is how to make a delicious cherry pie with Morello cherries.

INGREDIENTS:

For the filling:
1 24 oz. jar Morello Cherries in light syrup
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 T + 1/2 tsp. corn starch
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. butter

For the topping:
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
3 T butter

PROCEDURE:

Soften three tablespoons of butter in a small bowl. If you use unsalted butter, add an eighth teaspoon of salt to the butter when you soften it.

Line a nine-inch pie plate with a crust and crimp the top edge. If you don’t already have a recipe you prefer, you’ll find my recipe for pie crust here. It makes two crusts, so you can line two pie plates and freeze one to use later when you are in a hurry to make a dessert. Take the crust out of the freezer, pour in the filling, and in just a few minutes you’ll have a pie in the oven.

Preheat the oven to 400º.

Drain the juice from the cherries into a two quart saucepan and reserve the cherries. Mix the corn starch into the sugar in a small bowl. Whisk the sugar and corn starch into the juice and set the pan over moderate heat. Use the whisk or a fork to stir the juice often as it heats to make sure that you get a smooth sauce.

Reduce the heat as the juice thickens and becomes clear, and stir in the lemon juice, almond extract and butter. Stir the cherries into the thickened juice, bring the mixture back to a boil and simmer the filling for a minute. Remove the pan from the heat and let the filling cool a bit while you finish the crumb topping.

You can mix together the flour, oatmeal, brown sugar and cinnamon in a medium-sized bowl while the juice is cooking. Once you have set the filling aside to cool, cut the softened butter into the dry ingredients until you have a uniform mixture.

Pour the filling into the crust, sprinkle the crumb topping evenly over the filling and put the pie on a baking sheet on a center shelf in the preheated oven. Reduce the heat to 375º and bake for thirty-five to forty minutes. When the topping and crust are lightly browned, remove the pie from the oven to cool on a rack before serving.

NOTES: Be sure to put a baking sheet under the pie, as it, like many cherry pies, tends to run over a little as it bakes.

A scoop of good vanilla ice cream goes perfectly with a slice of cherry pie.

Grandma Met’s Icebox Cookies

One day, when she was eleven or twelve years old, Jerri’s sister-in-law Phyllis came home from school hungry for a snack. When she opened the icebox, she found eight rolls of her mother’s icebox cookie dough arranged temptingly on the top shelf.

Phyllis told us what happened. “I loved that cookie dough, so I took out a roll, unwrapped it and cut a little slice. It tasted so good that I cut another slice and then another. Pretty soon I had eaten half the roll. Once I had done that, I knew that Mom would see what I had done, so I just ate the whole roll and hoped that she wouldn’t notice. Mom never said anything, but I felt guilty about what I had done right up until she was in the nursing home. One day I decided to confess.”

They were sitting in her mother’s room when Phyllis found the courage to admit to that cookie caper so many years ago. “Mom,” she said, “do you remember a time when I ate a whole roll of your icebox cookie dough?”

Wilmetta, who was called “Met” by her family, still had a good memory. First she smiled, then she began laughing. “And I thought I had lost my mind and made only seven rolls, that day,” she exclaimed. “I always made eight rolls. You were in junior high and were already a little devil.”

Phyllis said she immediately felt better after confessing her transgression.

Like Jerri, Phyllis still likes unbaked cookie dough, but I prefer my cookies baked. If you want to risk eating raw cookie dough, go ahead, but be sure to bake some for people like me.

Unlike most icebox cookie recipes this one uses brown sugar to make a flavorful crunchy cookie.

INGREDIENTS:

4 cups light brown sugar
1 cup salted butter
4 large eggs
6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cream of tartar
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans

PROCEDURE:

Bring the butter and eggs to room temperature and chop the pecans.

Put the sugar into a large mixing bowl. Add the slightly softened butter to the sugar, and use a wooden spoon to combine the butter with the sugar. Beat the eggs one at a time into the sugar until you have a smooth, creamy mixture.

Sift the flour, baking soda and cream of tartar into a medium mixing bowl, then add the sifted flour to the sugar and egg mixture about a cup at a time. Stir each addition well into the moist ingredients.

Before adding the final cup of flour, fold in the pecans. Then stir in the remaining flour about a quarter cup at a time. Make sure that all the dry ingredients have been completely combined with the sugar and egg mixture. Mixing in the last cup of flour requires plenty of muscle, but the dough should be very stiff. Use a spatula to shape the dough in the mixing bowl into a dome-shaped mound.

Tear and set aside eight pieces of wax paper about ten inches long.

Use a long kitchen knife to divide the dough like a pie into eight equal pieces. Lightly flour a working surface and shape each piece of dough into a roll about an inch and a half in diameter and seven to eight inches long. Finish each roll by rolling it into a sheet of wax paper and twisting the ends to keep the dough from drying out.

Chill the rolls in the refrigerator overnight or for at least twelve hours.

When the dough is thoroughly chilled, preheat the oven to 350º.

Use a serrated knife to cut thin slices of dough, place them an inch apart on lightly greased baking sheets and bake until the edges of the cookies begin to brown, about ten minutes. Do not bake them too long.

NOTES: If you use unsalted butter, add a quarter teaspoon of salt along with the soda and cream of tartar when you sift the flour.

You can add a teaspoon or two of water to the dough if you can’t get the last bit of flour mixed into the dough.

I have experimented a little with slices of different thicknesses. One-eighth-inch slices make very crisp cookies that remind me of crackers. Three-sixteenth-inch slices are, I think, a better choice. My preference is to make quarter-inch or even slightly thicker cookies that stay slightly chewy if you bag them before they have dried out.

You can keep chilled rolls of dough in the refrigerator for three or four days or freeze them for a couple of months.  Just let a roll thaw out on the kitchen counter for an hour or two until you can slice it.   That way you can offer guests fresh baked cookies anytime with just a few hours notice.  Maybe that is another reason why my mother liked icebox cookies.

.