Wreaths of cottage flowers, like chains of little gems, hung from the rafters. Their reds, oranges, blues and pinks glowed against the soft, sooty-black of the ceiling and walls. The air smelled sweet of cherry-pie and fruit salad.
Outside the sun flamed in glory; and inside the kitchen there were these sweet smells and cool, delicious looking food.
Flora took a last look round, and was utterly satisfied.
Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons, Chapter 21
Happy Midsummer's Eve readers! This weekend, we're joining resourceful Flora Poste, as she celebrates her greatest success, Elfine Starkadder and Richard Hawk-Monitor's short-awaited nuptials. These fabulously-monikered individuals are all part of Stella Gibbons' incomparable Cold Comfort Farm, one of my favourite novels. It's a wonderfully biting and truly funny parody of novels about rural life - especially those written by D. H. Lawrence, Thomas Hardy and Mary Webb. Our heroine Flora, newly orphaned, is taken in by some of her extended family, whom she has never met. She sets about finding 'solutions' to their myriad of problems, endearing herself to her relatives (sometimes), and the reader (at all times), as she goes.
The wedding at the end of the novel (of course there has to be a wedding) is a beautiful event; lovely decorations, delicious food and plenty of champagne. It takes place on Midsummer's Eve, the perfect time of year in England to be baking a cherry pie. It's a simple and delicious pie - one which celebrates the ever-reliable marrying of fruit and pastry. To avoid a dreaded soggy bottom (your cherries should be bursting with juice, so this is definitely a risk), I've added some ground almonds into the mix.
Latticed Cherry Pie
Splash of cherry liqueur or amaretto
2tbsp ground almonds
340g plain flour
Pinch of salt
2tsp caster sugar
170g very cold butter, cut into cubes
100mL ice water
2tsp demerara sugar
Wooden skewer or cherry pitter
2 mixing bowls
1. Start by pitting your cherries. If you have a cherry pitter, go ahead and use it, but I find a wooden skewer just as effective. Remove the stalk, push the blunt end of the skewer into the cherry and continue pushing until the cherry pops out the other side. You'll inevitably get cherry juice everywhere, so this is not a pie to make while wearing a nice dress.
2. Sprinkle the sugar over the cherries (you may need more or less than 3tbsp, depending on how sweet your cherries are) and pour the alcohol over the top. Leave the cherries to sit while you make the pastry.
3. To make the pastry, put the flour, salt and sugar in the mixing bowl and rub in the butter with your fingertips (try and avoid rubbing it with your whole hand - keep it to your fingertips only). Once the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, add the iced water, bring the dough together into a ball, wrap in cling film and place in the fridge for half an hour.
4. Remove the pastry from the fridge and divide into thirds. Place two thirds back in the fridge. Roll out one third into a circle (between two piece of greaseproof paper) and place it in the greased pie tin, ensuring that the pastry reaches all the way up the sides, and at least 5mm beyond the edge of the tin. If there are any holes, fix them with extra pastry. Put the tin in the fridge while you prepare the filling and the top of the pie.
5. Preheat the oven to 250C and place a baking tray on the middle shelf. Roll out the other two thirds of the pastry into a square-ish shape, between two pieces of greaseproof paper. Slice the pastry into strips about 7mm - 1cm wide (depending on how thick you'd like your lattice). We're aiming for a very tight lattice, so once you have the strips, place enough of them right next to each other, all running parallel, to cover the width of the tin. Do this on a sheet of greaseproof paper, so it will be easy to lift the lattice up later. One by one, weave more strips over and under these parallel strips at a 90 degree angle. You can do this by lifting every second one of the parallel strips and laying the new strip across. Repeat with more strips, right next to the first, until you have a very solid lattice - see the picture below. Place the lattice in the fridge (still on the greaseproof paper), and bring the pie tin and base back out.
6. Add the cornflour to the cherries, and stir it through. Sprinkle the ground almonds into the pastry base and spoon the cherries and some of their sweet liquor into the base. Run your finger under water and run it around the edge of the pastry.
7. Remove the lattice from the fridge and slide into place on top of the pie. Press down, all the way around the tin, and trim, leaving a bit of overhang as the pastry will shrink a little. Brush with a beaten egg mixed with the milk and sprinkle with the sugar.
8. Place the pie onto the tray in the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 200C. This blast of high heat at the beginning will crisp up the base of the pie and help avoid a soggy bottom. Bake for around an hour until the pastry is golden and the cherry juice is bubbling through, wrapping the edges in foil if they brown before the middle is cooked. Serve in large slices with single cream poured over the top.