Sunday, August 11, 2013

Saskatoon Berry & Cherry Pie

golden pie

Last month I flew north to Thunder Bay to spend a week at my grandpa's camp with my family. It's been something of an annual migration for my family - the end of July inevitably finds the majority of us gathered at my grandpa's for his birthday, an occasion he does his best to dismiss with scowls and a wave of his hand. "It's just another day!" he insists, every time.

The day I landed it was beautiful, bright, and windy. Stepping out of the airport was almost a physical shock; only hours ago I'd been in Toronto where the heat wave (or as I like to call it, The Time of Sweating) had just ended, and I had only barely managed to get used to the constant humidity. All of a sudden I had goosebumps and felt the need to shiver - it was a balmy 22°C outside and I was thinking I should have packed thermal underwear. My suitcase was filled with shorts and summer dresses, with one pair of jeans I'd packed at the last second. I started to think that my wardrobe had been a complete miscalculation. A quick glance at the week's forecast only seemed to confirm my fears: rain, every day.

I shrugged it off. I'd been on enough frigid camping trips in my childhood to survive one week of rain. Surely I was tough enough for that.

blue, blue,blue a happy old girl a looking glass lake

We drove into camp that night, for once the first to arrive. My aunt and uncle, to whom the tasks of opening and closing up the camp usually fall, would be driving in a few days later. For the time being it was just me, my mother, and grandpa.

The place felt lonely. I was so used to walking into the small cabin already in a state of minor chaos, its tiny pantry bursting with my aunt's spices and other staples, while the fridge bulged dangerously, each request for a beer its own obstacle course through the fridge's contents. The coffee table would be piled high with magazines and cookbooks, one of my cousins would almost always being playing a game of cribbage, and if grandpa was there, he'd either be chopping down or burning things.

good morning Oliver Lake the road at camp my one day of blue sky
the view from here Keetah at camp at Oliver Lake

When my mother and I walked in, it was eerily empty. The counters were clear, and the shelves were almost bare save for an assortment of wide-brimmed hats and an old rock collection. The bedrooms were empty and there were no dish towels but plenty of beach towels. The kettle had been stuffed with tissues to keep it free of mice seeking a warm nesting place, their droppings scattered about, the only visitors the place had seen since my aunt had closed up shop in October.

We spent the evening sweeping and cleaning, making up the bedrooms, injecting life back into the place. By sunset my grandpa had a fire going in the wood stove and we were reclining on the couches, noses in our books. I baked a batch of peanut butter cookies (grandpa's favourite) which were unfortunately somewhat burnt on the bottoms, a fact my grandpa delighted to point out to me several times, even as he ate his third cookie.

The next day was the only other day of blue sky and sun I would see for the rest of the week. Keetah and I ventured down the road for a jaunt, and I returned hot and sweaty, ready for a jump in the lake. As evening settled in, so did the rain, and it stayed with us for the rest of the week. My morning dips in the lake went from refreshing to numbing, and each morning we lit a fire in the wood stove to help ease the chill out of the camp.

walks at camp out with Keetah

When my aunt and uncle arrived, they brought the frenetic energy the place had been missing. Box after box, laden with kitchen supplies, pantry staples, and food, kept arriving, until eventually, the camp was once again the way I remembered it: bursting at the seams, stuffed to maximum capacity with food, booze, books, and games.

Perhaps strangely, I felt more at ease amidst the crowdedness. The usual feasting began, and another batch of cookies became necessary (at least from mine and my grandpa's perspective). And, of course, there were calls for pie, which I apparently established as a new tradition last year.

Saskatoon berry walking with mom

And so, my last day at camp was spent with my hands in flour and butter, pitting cherries, and rolling out dough. It emerged from the oven a glorious golden brown, and the cherries had acquired the sweet taste of almonds, faintly like the flavour of maraschino cherries. In a matter of minutes, it was sliced, served, and devoured, the best kind of compliment I could have gotten. For a few moments, everyone sat (fairly) quietly, enjoying their slice of pie.

My grandpa claims that his birthday is "just another day", but it's a day that invariably pulls us together from our little corners of the world, even if only for the brief pleasure of sharing a birthday cake, or in some cases, a birthday pie.

Grandpa & his faithful floor cleaner Grandpa + pie = happy

Saskatoon Berry & Cherry Pie
This pie is an amazing summer pie, meant for those last few months when the cherries and Saskatoons are ripe and in season. If you can't get your hands on Saskatoon berries, however, you can use blueberries instead.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup butter, very cold
1/2 cup ice water

3 cups Saskatoon berries (or blueberries)
3 cups pitted sweet cherries
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp allspice (optional)
1/4 tsp nutmeg (optional)
1/8 tsp salt
3 tbsp corn starch

humble beginnings always butter a most buttery creation
mix until crumbly divide, chill, conquer cherry murder
a mix of sugars pie filling rolled out and ready
heaped to the brim cherry & saskatoon berry pie, covered and crimped pie slashing

1. Prepare the pie dough. Whisk together the flours, sugar, and salt.

2. Cut butter into cubes. Place in the freezer for at least 10 minutes to firm them up. (The colder the butter, the flakier your pie crust.) Use a pastry blender to cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles a coarse meal - you don't want the pieces of butter to be much smaller than peas.

3. Drizzle in half the water and stir in. Keep adding water until the dough begins to clump together, then use your hands to form it into two disk. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour before rolling.

4. To make the filling, pour the berries and pitted cherries into a large bowl and mix in the lemon juice. Add in both sugars, spices, salt, and cornstarch, and stir until the fruit is evenly coated.

5. Preheat oven to 425°.

6. On a floured surface, roll out one disk of pie dough until 12 or 13 inches in diameter. Gently transfer it to a standard pie plate. My favourite method for transfer pie dough is to first fold it in half, then in half again, place it in one corner of the pie dish and unfold it. Or, you can roll it around your rolling pin and then unroll it into the pie plate. Pour in the filling and spread it out evenly.

7. Roll out the second disk of pie dough as you did the first, then transfer it on top of the pie filling. Trim any excess dough around the edges, leaving about 1 inch of overhang. Crimp the sides with your fingers, then cut slits in the top of the pie to create air vents and let steam escape while baking. Place pie on a baking sheet to catch any filling that may bubble out of the pie as it bakes.

8. Bake the pie in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes, until the crust is set and beginning to brown, then turn the heat down to 375° and bake the pie for another 30 - 40 minutes, until the filling is bubbling and the crust is a beautiful golden brown. Note: If your pie crust is browning too quickly, cover it with a sheet of tinfoil to prevent further browning.

9. Let pie cool completely before serving (if you can stand to wait that long). This will allow the filling to set and thicken, which will make for a less-runny slice of pie (not that hot gooey pie filling isn't delicious with a bit of ice cream). Pie can be stored at room temperature or in the fridge, covered, for several days, but will taste best the day it's made.

the first slice don't forget the pie innards
cherry & Saskatoon berry pie, baked


  1. Hi...the pie looks great...would I have to add more sugar to use sour cherries?

    1. If you're worried you can add another 1/4 cup of sugar to the recipe. Hope that helps!

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