*Written for Hudson Valley Magazine
PHOTO BY MICHAEL SINGER
Ruth Reichl and the few who hold her status in the food world live a life of pleasure that is out of reach for most. They hop around the globe, on a lifelong tour of exceptional meals, paying back the universe by sharing their food or their written experiences of food. Those who share well get to keep living that life. Reichl shares well. She offers vivid sensory bursts to her 1.2 million Twitter followers almost daily:
“Sun just came out! Brilliant rain-washed sky. Sitting on bright green grass, bowl of cherries in my lap. Happy.”
She writes memoirs, like her recent Save Me The Plums, detailing her time as editor of Gourmet magazine, that embed family history and recipes all within a fluid narrative.
On a cool evening in June we met for dinner at Gaskins in Germantown, and I heard that familiar voice in person. After warming up with a tangy runner bean salad, a wood-fired soft-shell crab entrée, and a couple of glasses of rosé, she began sharing a personal food ritual that began 25 years ago in her Columbia County cottage:
“Have you ever had a sour cherry pie? Let me just say that you have not lived until you have had a sour cherry pie. I remember the first time I made one for a dinner party up here; everyone had their first bite and the room went silent. Then you just heard a quiet, ‘Ohhhh.’ Even my son Nick, who was 8 and a picky eater at the time said, ‘This is good, Mom.’
“While sour cherries are in season I go to the farmers’ market every weekend and buy tons of them. I spend part of an afternoon taking the stones out — a cook at Gourmet showed me the best way to do this is to open up a paperclip and just flip them out. Once they are seeded, I freeze most of them so that I have them all winter; the freezing doesn’t change them. To bake a pie mid-winter, look out at mountains of white, and then taste summer, it is just heaven.”
She gave her thoughts on food and morality (“I won’t eat tortured food. I don’t want to eat an animal whose best day is the day it dies.”); food and cultural appropriation (“We have been appropriating foods and ideas from other places for all of human history.”); and she shared more of the moments of bliss she is famous for recreating on Twitter and in her books. Like the “most perfect meal she ever had” that “changed her idea of what food could be.” It was a simple meal she had in Crete in 1970 of homemade yogurt, fresh-caught fish, homemade wine, and garden-grown onions and tomatoes.
Through her storytelling Reichl allows people into her heaven, and, for us in the Hudson Valley, she reminds us we live there, too.
Sour Cherry Pie
Recipe Excerpted from www.ruthreichl.com
Most sour cherry recipes are too sweet, which ruins the unique flavor of this elusive fruit. This one, I think, is just about perfect. Another bonus: unlike so many pastries, this one is better when it’s had a little time to itself, and it tastes better on day two (provided it actually lasts that long).
This can be a soft and difficult dough to work with in the heat of summer. But unlike regular pie dough, it’s a cookie-like pastry that’s very forgiving, and refuses to get tough, no matter how much you handle it. When it gets too soft, simply put it back in the refrigerator for five minutes to let it cool off. It will become much more accommodating.
Mix one and a half sticks of soft butter with a third cup of sugar in a stand mixer until fluffy.
Break an egg into a small dish; reserve a bit to wash the pastry later, and add the rest of the egg to the butter. Toss in a teaspoon of vanilla.
Grate the rind of one lemon into 2 and a quarter cups of flour. Add a pinch of salt and slowly add to the butter/egg mixture until it just comes together. Divide into two disks, wrap in wax paper, and put in the refrigerator to chill for half an hour.
Meanwhile, make the cherry filling by removing the pits from 2 pints of fresh sour cherries; you should have 4 cups once the pits are removed. To pit the cherries, open a paper clip one fold, and use it to flip the pits out. Works like a charm! The pitted cherries freeze well; I try to freeze enough to last at least until Christmas. Do not defrost before using.
Melt three tablespoons of butter in a large skillet. Add the cherries, a half cup of sugar and the juice of one lemon and stir gently, just until the liquids come to a boil. Don’t cook them too long or the cherries will start to fall apart.
Make a slurry of 3 tablespoons of cornstarch with 3 tablespoons of cold water and stir it into the boiling cherries. Cook for about two minutes, stirring, just until the mixture becomes clear and thick. Allow to cool.
Preheat the oven to 375 and put a baking sheet on the middle shelf.
Remove the pastry disks from the refrigerator. Roll out the first one, between two sheets of plastic wrap, to a round about twelve inches in diameter. This is the tricky part: invert it into a 9 inch fluted tart pan, preferably one with high sides. It will probably tear; don’t worry, just patch it all up and put it back into the refrigerator.
Roll out the second disk in the same manner, put it onto a baking sheet (still on the plastic wrap), remove the top sheet of plastic and cut this into 8 or 10 strips, about an inch wide. Put the baking sheet into the refrigerator to chill for a few minutes.
Remove the tart shell and the strips from the refrigerator. Pour the cherry filling into the tart shell. Now make a lattice of the strips on the top, criss-crossing them diagonally. Don’t worry if they’re not perfect; no matter what you do, the tart’s going to look lovely when it emerges from the oven. Brush the strips with the remaining beaten egg, sprinkle with sugar and put into the oven on the baking sheet. (You need the sheet to keep cherry juices from spilling onto the oven floor.) Bake for about 45 minutes, until golden.
Cool for an hour, on a rack, before removing the side of the tart pan.
Eat gratefully, knowing that fresh sour cherries are a short-lived summer treat.