Easy Cherry Crisp

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.

INGREDIENTS:

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)
PROCEDURE:

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.

Jeff Smith’s Zwiebelkuchen (Onion Pie)

Since I grew up surrounded by German relatives, you might think that I learned about Zwiebelkuchen from a grandmother or aunt, but alas the truth is that it was The Frugal Gourmet who introduced me to this dish. Jerri gave me Jeff Smith’s book, The Frugal Gourmet On Our Immigrant Ancestors, in 1991, and we have enjoyed many of the recipes. Jeff’s version of Zwiebelkuchen is one of the best.

For most people in the United States the hardest thing about this recipe is mastering the correct pronunciation of the name. Zwiebelkuchen is pronounced Tsvee-bell-kook-en with the double “o” pronounced like the cooing sound doves make. A Zwiebel is an onion and a Kuchen is a cake or in this compound word, a pie.

Kuchen is the German word that became “quiche” in French, a word most of us know from the name of a wonderful custard pie, “Quiche Lorraine.” Besides the basic Quiche Lorraine, which consists of bacon and eggs baked in a crust, there are many variations. The most common version I have found is one in which Swiss or Gruyere cheese is added to the filling, but some recipes include spinach, mushrooms, broccoli, asparagus and cheddar cheese.

Like quiche, Zwiebelkuchen is an egg custard, but it differs in that there is more onion and bacon in the custard than you find in a quiche. This is a quiche with substance, a real meal for hungry people.

If you don’t have a pie crust on hand, you’ll find an easy recipe here.

INGREDIENTS:

4 slices of thick-sliced bacon (about 1/3 pound)
2 medium yellow onions (3 to 3 1/2 inches in diameter)
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 T flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
1 unbaked 10-inch pie shell

PROCEDURE:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Take the sour cream and eggs out of the refrigerator. Cut the bacon into half inch pieces and fry it over medium heat until it begins to brown. The bacon should not become crisp.

While the bacon is frying, peel and chop the onions medium fine. You should have 2 to 2 1/2 cups of onions. If there is more than a tablespoon of grease in the skillet with the bacon, drain the excess before you add the onions. Continue cooking until the onions are translucent but not brown. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the onions and bacon to cool slightly while you make the custard.

Beat the eggs until lemon colored, then beat in the sour cream. Sprinkle the flour, salt and pepper over the liquid and beat them in thoroughly.

Prick the bottom of the pie crust a few times with a fork, then spread the onion and bacon mixture over the bottom. Pour the custard mixture evenly over the top, put the kuchen on the middle shelf of the oven and bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Then turn down the heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean and the top of the kuchen starts to brown.

With a salad and a glass of beer or wine, Zwiebelkuchen makes a wonderful lunch or light dinner.

NOTES: Jeff Smith’s recipe calls for a nine-inch pie crust, but I find that a ten-inch crust works better. With the larger crust I don’t slop custard on the bottom of the oven, and the kuchen bakes faster, so we can get down to the serious job of eating it sooner.