Indecision Pie (Shaker Lemon and Cherry)

Shaker lemon pie with cherries

The lemon is underneath the cherries

This floated into the kitchen because Jan 23 was National Pie Day*, an event that got a surprising amount of  PR, given that every day is pie day in most people’s estimations. It’s probably because good pie is still – compared to say, macarons  – in woefully short supply.

Ok. Deciding to bake a pie was easy. Deciding what kind of pie to bake was not, fresh local fruit also being in short supply in the Northeast just now. We’ve gone through all the frozen berries already; we’re eating too much winter squash to make pumpkin appealing, and while apple might seem obvious, it’s not if you breakfast on baked apples with yogurt pretty much every mortal day of the winter.

But then I remembered I had a whole bag of Meyer lemons in the cold room, bought on impulse simply because I was so delighted to see them. Very seasonal. Especially made into Shaker lemon pie, which by containing the whole fruit and getting baked between two crusts seems better suited to cold weather than lemon meringue, even if custard is a major player.

And yet, and yet… “cherry” is surely pie’s first name if “apple” is rejected. And since cherry is almost always made with canned fruit there’s no seasonality problem.

I dithered back and forth for a while, then came down on the side of lemon. Completed the first step – thinly slicing the lemons, mixing them with a LOT of sugar and letting them sit for a day to soften and mellow.

Then I got worried. The sugar didn’t draw enough lemon juice to completely dissolve and the visible bits of lemon peeking through the syrup-rivuletted pile of white crystals looked seriously lonely. I tasted the mixture and found it wasn’t notably over sweet, but doubts remained. And as there happened to be a can of cherries in the store closet….Genius! If I do say so myself.

Cut to Bill and me, standing in the kitchen enjoying. I allow as to how I’d better give at least half of it away as soon as possible, to avoid will power problems. (There are just the two of us and neither is slender.) His reply? “Don’t you dare!!”

Shaker Lemon and Cherry Pie

The lemon filling ingredients are more or less universal, but discarding the pithy end pieces is a nicety that comes from Ruth Levy Berenbaum’s excellent Pie and Pastry Bible. Shaker lemon pie has a closed crust; cherry is traditionally lattice. I compromised by making the lattice a bit tighter than usual.  A closed crust will work just as well.

For a 10 inch pie:

2 large lemons – Meyer are widely recommended for their less acid flavor, but I doubt the Shakers had them and the difference is pretty petitie.

2c. sugar

¼ tsp. salt

1 14.5 oz. can pitted sour cherries in water

1 tbl. minute tapioca

pastry for a 2 crust pie (easy recipe here)

5 eggs

1. Freeze the lemons for an hour or so to firm up. Grate the zest from each end into a medium sized non-reactive bowl, then cut fruit in half the long way. Cut off and discard the flesh-free ends, then slice the rest very thinly. Working over the bowl, remove seeds and drop the slices in. Stir in the sugar and salt and set aside covered at room temperature for a day.

2. Roll pastry between sheets of waxed paper into 2 roughly 11 inch rounds. Stack the waxed paper sandwiches on a baking sheet and refrigerate for 1 to 4 hours.

3. Drain the cherries into a small saucepan and reserve. In a small cup, mix 2 tbl. of the juice with the tapioca and set aside. Boil the juice until reduced by about a third, then turn the heat to medium low. Loosen the tapioca mixture with a bit of the hot liquid, then stir it in. Cook, stirring, until the liquid is thick and translucent. This will happen quickly and there will probably still be white dots of tapioca. Not to worry. Stir in the cherries and let cool completely.

4. Put a rack in the lower third of the oven, put a baking stone on it and heat the oven to 450. (I thought I had invented this – see Crisp Crust Maple Walnut Pie –  but as usual with recipes, no such thing. Ms. B. was well ahead of me and I’m sure she’s not the only one.) Give it a half hour or so to be sure the stone is thoroughly heated.

5. While the oven is heating, fit one crust into a pyrex pie plate. Separate an egg, adding the yolk to the lemon mixture. Beat the white just until thin and fluid, then paint the inside of the pie shell with it. Set aside in a cool place that is not the refrigerator. (If you’re going for the lattice top, prefabricate it on a sheet of waxed paper and chill until needed.)

6. Beat the remaining eggs into the lemon mixture. When the oven is hot, pour it into the crust and top with the cherries. They will be gloppy; it’s best to use your hands. Apply the top crust and cut some slashes in it if you’re not using the lattice. Crimp the edges.

7. Bake for 12 minutes, then lower heat to 350 and bake until bottom/side crust is well browned and top is golden, anywhere from a half hour to an hour more. Be ready to protect the rim so it doesn’t burn. The custard will of course be cooked long before the crust. Doesn’t matter; it’s so sweet and acid the eggs don’t toughen or separate. Cool completely before cutting.

slice of cherry lemon pie

Next time I make it I’ll probably double the cherries, which will not only boost their taste but also raise the top crust a little bit so it browns faster. The obvious alternative, crustwise, is a 9 inch pie, but the filling flavor is so intense it needs a lot of crust for balance.

* Concerning National Pie Day

It’s a brainchild of the National Pie Council, which I’m sure to no one’s surprise appears to be primarily a promotional vehicle for Crisco.

National pi day (March 14, because that’s 3/14) is also a great excuse to bake one but other than that an altogether different kettle of pi. It’s been going since 1988 and was originally created by a physicist named Larry Shaw, who was working at the San Francisco Exploratorium when he came up with the idea.

pie with pi decoration

from the wikipedia entry on pi day, which also includes this -

Larry Shaw with pies

I love it! - portrait of Larry Shaw, the Prince of Pi

Addendum: If you can’t get out to San Francisco – or are simply a competition hound – check out this Pi Day opportunity from the team at Serious Eats.

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  • Ali Said,

    How could I possibly have missed this opportunity. Oh, remember, it’s that slender thing. We are calorie counting 🙁

    The pie looks delicious. I have often wanted to try a Shaker lemon pie. Someday I will.

    Condolences on the calorie counting, Ali. Also good luck. Never seems to work for me, at least not compared to just cutting out simple carbs (aka flour and sugar, unfortunately). That does of course cut many calories but more importantly leaves me free to ignore numbers and eat whatever I want of meat and dairy, nuts and vegetables.

  • Robin Said,

    My mouth is watering over the lemon and cherry pie. Cherries will be ripe in five months. I might not be able to wait that long.

    Welcome, Robin,
    I’d say go for it! Fresh cherries will no doubt be even more wonderful, but the canned ones are plenty good enough to make this a very dangerous pastry.

  • Mel Parsons Said,

    Shaker lemon pies rock. I think I found a recipe decades ago in Gourmet. Sad that such a great mag went down the tubes.

    Totally agree with you on both counts, Mel.

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