Marking summer with the cycle of fruit pies

July 13, 2005|By ROB KASPER

ACCORDING TO THE cycle of summer pies, time is marked by noting which type of fresh fruit shows up under a homemade crust.

Strawberry pies appear first, followed by cherry pies, then blueberry and then peach. A blackberry pie might be tossed in for variety. That is how a Maryland summer is supposed to pass.

That is a seasonal rhythm I want our household to adhere to. Yet by early this July, prime-pie time, nary one had popped out of our oven. There was a reasonable explanation for this pie-deprived state. We did not have an oven.

Our kitchen is undergoing either a striking restoration or an endless reconstruction, at this stage I am not sure which. But while the work goes on, the oven has been out of commission. Any procedure that called for baking had been shifted to the barbecue cooker in the back yard. I have handled almost anything on that cooker, including pizza. But baking pies in it is beyond me.

To bake a pie, we have had to go oven-hopping, trekking to a neighbor's house to use the facilities there. It can be a hassle, another roadblock on the path to baked bliss, and early this summer our pie production was down.

So on a recent Sunday, when my wife announced that she was in a pie-making mood, I sprang to action. She is the household's premier pie maker. I still have not mastered the crust but am one of the household's pie enablers, guys who cheer the pie maker on to feats of glory. In that role I hurried down to the Sunday-morning farmers' market in downtown Baltimore looking for fresh local fruit. It was there in abundance.

Not only were the market stands heaping with mounds of sweet cherries, which make satisfying snacks, there were also plenty of sour cherries, the stuff that terrific pies are made of.

One of the anomalies of kitchen life is that sour fruit - apples and cherries in particular - can be sprinkled with sugar and can end up making the best pie fillings.

As a bonus, local strawberries were also at the market, probably the last of the season. These strawberries were so ripe and fragrant that I could smell them before I saw them, always a good sign.

Having ridden my bicycle to the market, I carefully loaded several boxes of cherries and strawberries in the bike's basket and pumped toward home, up penitentiary hill. That is my name for the stretch of Fallsway north of Madison Street that connects with Mount Royal Avenue.

The real name of the building that runs alongside the street is called the Central Booking and Intake Center. But this building is in the same neighborhood and sometimes shares customers with the nearby Maryland Penitentiary. Besides, "penitentiary hill" sounds better than "Central Booking and Intake Center incline."

Whatever you call it, it is a fairly steep climb. As I pedaled up it with cherries and strawberries, I reminded myself, "no pain, no pie."

At home the strawberries were stemmed, the sour cherries pitted and the piecrusts assembled. I was the sous-chef in these endeavors, fetching ice for the ice water, adding the salt at my wife's instruction and then carrying one pie shell over to a neighbor's house to bake.

These neighbors were out of town. They had left us with their keys and instructions on how to disarm their home's alarm system. The keys presented no problem for me. The alarm system did. I thought I had punched in the right code, the one that told the alarm system to remain calm. I had not.

The alarm went off as I was in the kitchen preheating the oven. It was very loud. I opened the front door and waved to the curious neighbors. It was an "I'm--not-a--burglar-just-a-klutz" wave. They waved back.

The phone rang. It was a guy from the alarm company. He wanted me to tell him a password that signaled everything was OK. Actually everything was not OK; the alarm was making me deaf. But I tried to assure him that I was a friend of the homeowners, a guy baking pies in their kitchen. He still wanted a password.

Thankfully, the alarm went silent for a time and I went back to baking. Soon, however, it resumed its howls. By now my wife had ventured over to the neighbor's house, carrying another pie that needed baking. There we were, pies in our hands, when the police arrived at the door. The officer was both amused and competent. She figured out how to quiet the alarm.

I went home, leaving my wife at the neighbor's house.

A few minutes later, I got a phone call from one of the vacationing neighbors. The security company had telephoned them to tell them the alarm had gone off in their Baltimore home and that a guy answering their phone had failed to produce the password. What, the neighbor wanted to know, was going on?

It is nothing, I told her. Sure, the alarm had shrieked and the police had come. But we are getting a couple of great pies, a sour-cherry and a strawberry, out of the deal. The cycle of summer pies had been restored, and that, it seemed to me, was a reward worth all the alarming trouble.

Sour-Cherry Pie

Makes 8 servings

5 cups pitted sour cherries

1 1/4 cups sugar

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