~ Seriously Simple Stovetop Sour Cherry Pie Filling ~
When it comes to baking fruit pies, tarts and galettes, with few exceptions, I never consider using pre-cooked pie filling, the kind made-from-scratch, in advance, on the stovetop. Lots of people do, and, I'm not here to criticize. If the end justifies the means, there is nothing wrong with pre-cooked. In fact, it's a commonly used, kid-tested, mother-approved method. There's more. Even when I'm faced with an over-abundance of fruit, depending on the fruit, whenever it's applicable, I choose freezing the fruit or cooked fruit concoction over the more laborious option: water-bath canning and preserving (which was a necessary way of life for our freezer-less grandmothers and great-grandmothers). That said, when I'm baking certain confections, like fruit-filled pastries and fruity cookies bars, like everyone else, I do have a need for pre-cooked fruit filling -- but, no matter how convenient, I avoid the urge to cave-in and buy a can of the store-bought stuff.
A leisurely stroll through the baking isle of any grocery store will reveal a lot of tempting canned 'pie fruit filling' choices: apple, apricot, banana, blueberry, cherry, dark cherry, tart cherry, key lime, lemon, peach, pineapple, pumpkin, raisin, raspberry, strawberry, strawberry-rhubarb, and, mixed berry -- there are other non-fruit 'pie filling choices too, like chocolate, coconut and vanilla. In all honesty, I have never once tried any, so, I can't attest to their exact taste or texture, but, today, in honor of this post, I did cave-in:
I sent my hubby Joe to the market to pick up one can of a well-known, respected and recommended brand for the sole purpose of doing a comparison study of store-bought to mine.
A bit about sour cherries vs. cherries in general: Sour cherries should not be confused with their cousins, the reddish-black Bing cherry and the peachy-blush Rainier cherry. These two sweet cherries (which are larger and firmer than sour cherries) are great for eating "as is" like any other fresh fruit, but they do not make for great baked desserts. When sour cherries are cooked, they become quite sweet, plus, they hold their shape better than their sweet relatives. Sour cherries are a bit too tart to eat more than just a few out-of-hand, but they make superb preserves, pies and cobblers. The sour cherry season is quite brief, with the cherries being ready to pick at the very end of June or the very beginning of July. Picking them is a bit tricky, as they are at their absolute best if left on the tree until you think they will begin to spoil if left there one more day, while at the same time getting them all picked, at once, before the birds devour an entire tree of cherries for you -- which is why they are nicknamed "bird cherries".
Meet my small-batch quick-batch stovetop cherry pie filling!
A bit about this recipe: This is not a big-batch recipe, it makes enough for 1 pie, about the same equivalent as 2 cans of store-bought pie filling. Unless you need a lot of pre-cooked pie filling that you intend to use immediately or within a week, don't make a big batch. Why? This recipe contains cornstarch, which does not hold up well to freezing or prolonged cooking.
If you wish to make a big batch to freeze or can, you'll have to switch from cornstarch to a product called Instant ClearJel (for freezing) or ClearJel Cooktype (for traditional water-bath canning). Do not confuse ClearJel with either liquid pectin or powdered pectin (like Certo or Sure-Gel) -- it's quite different. ClearJel is a modified cornstarch used by professional bakers and canneries. Like cornstarch it produces a clear, glistening product without any tapioca starch or flour taste, but, unlike cornstarch it tolerates high temperatures over a long period of time, and, doesn't begin to thicken until it cools, which makes it ideal for traditional canning. Many experts will tell you that ClearJel per se reacts better to acidic foods than cornstarch does, but, I've not experienced any problems using cornstarch in my "quick batch" pie fillings. This is good news for me, and for you too, because oddly, ClearJel is not readily available in most markets and has to be special-ordered on-line -- which I find odd.
all juice from cherries (about 1/2 cup) + enough water to total 1 cup liquid (Note: Including 1 tablespoon of cherry brandy or extract in this mix is delicious too.)
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup sugar
5 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
~ Step 3. Gradually fold in the cherries. Cool to room temp, stirring occasionally, 45-60 minutes.
Advance troubleshooting tip: If you choose to refrigerate pie filling and it gets "weepy" (gets liquid-y and/or appears separated), worry not. Just put it back in the saucepan over medium-high heat and simmer for 1-2 more minutes.
Use, as is, at room temperature, as directed, or, portion into desired-sized containers & refrigerate until well-chilled, overnight or up to 1 week:
Special Equipment List: cherry pitter; 1-cup measuring container; 4-quart saucepan, preferably nonstick; large spoon; 2, 1-pint jars, or, 2, 2-cup food storage containers w/tight-fitting lids
Cook's Note: ~ I Can't Lie: this is Real Sour-Cherry Streusel Pie ~. This family recipe is made the old-fashioned way: by tossing cherries with sugar, flour, tapioca, a pinch of salt and a splash of cherry brandy. Get my recipe in Category 6!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)