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.


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


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.

Morello Cherry Crisp

Last summer a reader asked me if she could substitute Morello cherries for canned cherry pie filling to make my Easy Cherry Crisp. I had never tried making a pie or crisp with Morello cherries but told her that I thought it would be worth trying. To my surprise I was right. The dark red Morello cherries produce an attractive and delicious crisp.

Morello is actually the name of one of two groups of sour cherries. The other group is named Amarelle. Food historians generally agree that Roman soldiers carried these sour cherries from trees growing along the Black Sea and planted the seeds throughout Europe. Both groups contain varieties that are prized by cooks. For Americans, the most famous Amarelle cherry is the Montmorency tart cherry. Today, farmers in Door County, Wisconsin, produce millions of tons of Montmorency cherries used to make pies, jams and wine.

The most common Morello varieties are Hungarian or English Morello cherries. The Morello is a dark red cherry with a red flesh and juice unlike the bright red Montmorency cherry with its clear juice. Morello cherries are the dominant kind grown in Hungary, and the Balaton cherry variety from Hungary is now commercially cultivated in Michigan. English Morello cherry trees are popular in the United States with varieties such as the Kansas Sweet and Northstar.

Growing up in Wisconsin, I am more familiar with the Montmorency cherry, which probably explains why I think it is the best choice for cherry pie or crisp. I was brought up by a mother who used “pie cherries” from Door County for her cherry pies. I didn’t even know what Morello cherries were until sometime after I started college.

However, I now know that Morello cherries produce pies and crisps just as good as those made with those little red jewels that I still think of as pie cherries. One advantage of Morello cherries is that they are usually a little less expensive than their Montmorency cousins and have become fairly common in major markets, so you can save money on some delicious desserts.

Here is the way to make a beautiful and tasty cherry crisp with Morello cherries.


For the crust and topping:
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)

For the filling:
1 jar of Morello cherries (about 24 oz.)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 T cornstarch
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. butter
1/4 tsp. almond extract


Preheat the oven to 375º.

Use a fork to blend the sugar, flour and oatmeal together in a mixing bowl. Chop the butter into a half inch dice and cut it 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 in the oven 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.

Make the filling while the bottom crust is baking.

Drain the cherry juice into a two quart saucepan. Blend the granulated sugar with the cornstarch and stir these two ingredients into the juice. Set the pan over moderate heat and stir the mixture until the juice has turned clear and thickened. Stir in the lemon juice, butter and almond extract, then add the cherries. Stir and cook the filling until it bubbles.

Remove the pan from the heat and allow the filling to cool to a warm room temperature. 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: Crisp is best when served slightly warm. Put each serving into the microwave for a few seconds before adding the scoop of ice cream.

If you are using unsalted butter, stir a quarter teaspoon of salt into the dry ingredients before cutting in the butter. Add a tiny pinch of salt to the filling if you use unsalted butter in it as well.

I have started softening the butter before cutting it into the oatmeal mixture, which works okay for me.