Thanksgiving has never been my favorite holiday. As a vegetarian, I know that Thanksgiving traditions aren’t exactly geared towards me. In past years I’ve tried to make my own contribution to the big dinner with a vegetarian entrée that everyone would enjoy. With a highly carnivorous father, a mother who is a vegetarian but doesn’t like anything too “flavorful,” a skeptical brother who hates beans, and a sister whose food aversions seem to change with every season, a vegetarian crowd-pleaser is a tall order. One year I made spanakopita (spinach pie), another year I made tiropita (cheese pie), and more recently I made a mushroom tart. All were vaguely accepted, but with the traditional Thanksgiving fare competing for attention, I felt as though I was making an entrée just for little old me. For a fleeting moment I thought I’d stay strong and make another entrée this year in the name of vegetarianism, but as I was leafing through recipes for lentil-stuffed swiss chard and whole grain pasta with chopped brussels sprouts, I remembered my cooking motto that started when the boy and I began compromising in the kitchen. It grounds me, forces me to branch out, and best of all, it only asks for a simple “yes” or “no” answer: Would a dude eat this?
With the decisive direction from my motto, I decided to step away from the main course and move into an area where my efforts are usually more widely appreciated (read: by more than myself). Cherry pie is something I’ve only had a handful of times, but love more and more with every plate given to me. I had never made my own pie crust, or a double-crusted pie for that matter. Since I knew my mom, ever the stickler for tradition, would have the usual spread of pumpkin and french silk pies available at our Thanksgiving, I figured it wouldn’t matter if I botched this one up. With a little piecing together of cherry pie recipes, and two brave grocery trips on the day before Thanksgiving (tip: AVOID this is possible), I grabbed my mother’s pie pans and dove into the unknown. Or the slightly known, if you will. And I think you will.
Sweet Cherry Pie
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
- 1/3 cup cold vegetable shortening
- 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 5 or 6 tablespoons ice-cold water
- 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
- 4 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 pounds frozen whole pitted dark sweet cherries
- 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 400 degrees
In a food processor, pulse the flour, salt and sugar until mixed. Add the butter and shortening and pulse until fully incorporated. Add the water through the feed tube until the dough begins to gather and ball up on one side (this took about 5 tablespoons for me). Remove the dough from the food processor, divide in half, and form into a ball and then two flatter discs. Wrap with plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour. I refrigerated mine overnight. Although this was mostly because I was tired and lacking motivation for the time-being, it was still a good idea.
If you’re feeling ballsy and don’t need a break after your adventure with the food processor, get started on the filling. Thaw the cherries by defrosting in the microwave. They don’t need to be entirely thawed, just make sure they have some give to them when squeezed. To keep the cherries from being mushy, put in a colander and let them sit for about 10 minutes, giving them a good shake every now and then.
Now comes fun with chemistry, or as harder-to-please people may call it, “making the pie filling.” The kid in me who always liked science but was remarkably terrible at it gets a kick out of this. Anyway, combine the 1 cup sugar, cornstarch, salt, cherries, lemon juice, and vanilla extract in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. After it reaches a boil, turn the heat down and let it simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring often, until it magically turns from this…
to THIS! Taa-daaa!
Set aside and let cool. Watch a holiday movie. Have yourself a cup of cheer. It’s your time.
After the dough has been chilled and the filling cooled, the assembly begins. Spray a 9-inch pie pan with cooking spray. Lightly flour a surface and roll out one of the discs so that it has about an 11-inch diameter, and line the bottom of the pan with this piece. If it takes you a few times, fear not. I was covered in flour and tears when I finally succeeded. There should be a some dough left hanging over the edge. Because this world isn’t perfect, try to even out the edges so the overhang is nearly even around the pan. This isn’t necessary, but it gives you extra dough to play with later.
Spoon the filling into the bottom pie shell, then repeat the rolling process with the second half of the dough. Lay the dough sheet over the pie, then roll, crease, or pull the overhanging sides in so they sit just within the pie pan edge. My instructions said to do this “decoratively,” but because my edges were a bit less decorative and more depressed, I used just the tops of a fork to press a pattern into the dough. With the excess I pulled off to even my sides, I rolled out and used a butter knife to cut a couple leaves for the top. Gently cut a few slits in the top of the dough, and dust with the remaining tablespoon of sugar to give it a glittery appeal.
Bake for 35-40 minutes. Mine took 37 to look this good…
Make some fresh whipped cream and/or vanilla ice cream to dollop on top, or just eat it straight. Whatever you do, just eat it.
The pie received rave reviews from big eaters, small eaters, meat eaters, and even the devoted traditionalists. What’s more, just a bit of pie victory made this vegetarian feel like she may have a place in this Thanksgiving holiday after all.