Triple Cherry Pie
I have played video games for a long, long time. The first game was Pong, on an Atari 2600 home console that attached to our TV. First, you had to set the television to channel 3 and then move this little switch on a box that hung from the back. I am pretty sure we only had the one game at first (it was included with the console). The screen was black except for a white dotted line down the center that represented the net. The two short white lines on each side were the “paddles” and a square white dot was the “ball”. At the top of the screen were two white numbers that kept score. All you had to do was turn a dial to move your paddle to make contact with the ball and it would bounce off and hopefully your opponent would miss it on their side. Hit the ball while your paddle was moving and it might cause the ball to "spin". Whee, what fun. Actually this was the late seventies and watching that little square move around the screen was indeed pretty fun. This was technology at it’s finest I can tell you that! Then somewhere along the way we picked up a few more games. The second game we picked up was a pinball game. It would notoriously not give you the points you should have received when you hit an object or the ball would pass through the “Spinner”. Thus coining the most uttered phrase in our home around that time…”Ah, come on! Gimme my hits!” Over the next few years as games were released we acquired a number of them and as long as there wasn’t something someone wanted to watch on TV, I would sit and play for hours. After graduating from High school and moving away from home, I had to leave that old Atari set behind, but by this time game consoles had made new advancements and there was a new player on the market: Intellivision! Now, Intellivision had something the Atari didn’t have… it could talk! Only a few games had the talking ability but it was definitely cool! The rest of the games were pretty much the same as on the Atari console. Gradually, on both machines, the graphics were getting better but were still pretty primitive.
In these early days of home consoles when we wanted something a little more exciting, the thing to do (when we weren’t working), was to drive out to the edge of town where the only real arcade was located. It was this tiny little place in a strip mall that had about 6 pinball machines and a couple of dozen other arcade games. These were the days of Joust, Centipede, Millipede, Paperboy, Q-Bert, Dig-Dug and Donkey Kong. And new games were being released all the time. David and I would visit the arcade armed with a bunch of quarters and spend way too many of them there. One of our favorite games was Burgertime. You had to move your chef through a maze of ladders and have him cross over parts of a hamburger, which were positioned at different heights on the screen. As you passed over each part of the burger it would drop down a level and when all the parts were assembled at the bottom you moved on to the next round. Of course all the while you’re navigating the ladders trying to cross over a burger part, there were these pickles, eggs and hot dogs that were chasing you. If one got too close you could sprinkle pepper on it to stun it and get away. If a pickle touched you, you lost a life, lose three lives and you were done. There were a lot of good games at that arcade, classics like Galaga, Pac man, Ms. Pac man, Frogger and Space invaders, plus games that came and went pretty fast like Track and Field and Defender.
One day when we went to the arcade, there was a significantly large crowd huddled around a brand new machine that was bigger than most of the other machines and it sported a fairly large sized monitor to boot… Dragon’s Lair. This was cutting edge technology using a laserdisc. This game didn’t just have little dots that made up your player, this was fully animated and by Don Bluth no less. I could be wrong but this might have been the very first game to ever use the laserdisc, it was definitely the first I had ever seen. I think it was the first time for many people as evidenced by the crowd hanging around trying to get a good look. It cost fifty cents to play too, yikes! I tried playing several times and invariably lost all my lives in less than a minute. I could never get the timing down so it was a game that, despite how great it looked, I stopped playing. Especially since for just one quarter I could play at least one minute of pinball before the ball drained down the center. Fun fact: that game is one of only three video games (the other two are Pacman, and Pong) in storage at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC.
We always had a good time at the arcade, it was loud from all sounds of the machines and the people who were smashing at buttons and hitting all the right things playing pinball. It had low lighting so the games could be seen better as well as look better; and it had a feel of excitement that you just had to be there to understand. It also had kind of a musty smell, reminiscent of a gym locker or sweaty socks. However a fantastic thing happened in the mid eighties that took us away from the arcade and back into our own living room, which was when Nintendo put out the NES. Basically this was just a newer version of the Atari 2600 but all our favorite arcade games were available plus the one game that had us hooked right from the beginning… Super Mario. The graphics were better than the Atari, the sound was better, (I can still remember the Mario theme music… really, who can’t?) the controls were better and how could you not want to save Princess Peach? We spent a lot of time trying... but never did rescue her. Poor Princess Peach alone and waiting for someone to show up who could never get past level 3! The NES was in our house for a very long time and we played many games on it over the years.
The NES eventually gave way to PC gaming. I can still remember purchasing games for the PC and seeing the evolution of them. Computers were getting better and better all the time and so were the games. Each game seemed to have better graphics and better sound than the one before. When we played Half Life in a darkened room and one of those crab like things jumped out from a corner and attached to the characters face, we would scream and reflexively push back from the monitor as if it could come right through the screen. Games like The Sims, and MYST and Diablo were cutting edge in their time and so much fun to play it was hard to imagine that PC gaming would eventually give way, for us, to the Xbox and PlayStation consoles. It seemed like we had come full circle... (TV Consoles, Arcades, Computers, TV Consoles). We bought our first Xbox just so we could play Halo. We only had a little 13-inch TV back then but on that first night with the Xbox, we sat on the edge of the bed and played until we couldn’t keep our eyes open anymore. Amazed at the graphics and the ability to walk (almost) wherever you wanted. To be able to play the game the way you chose and to witness the unfolding story was extraordinary. Games have come a very long way since Pong. Now with the ability to play games on tablets or phones, and to be able to play with other people around the world (who you really don’t ever want to know) is really the cherry on top.
Speaking of cherries… (See what I did there) I think my favorite pie might just be cherry pie. It’s either that or peach pie, it really depends on what season/day/time it is. But since I have seen cherries starting to hit our local markets though, cherry pie it is! This is a recipe that I pulled from Bon Appetit magazine about… well let’s just say a long time ago. Despite the amount of time that has passed since cutting out this recipe to today, I have yet to find a better tasting cherry pie. When I first read through this recipe, I will admit I had some concerns. I was worried about adding star anise and cinnamon to the cherries. To me that sounded, well… odd. Cherry pie should be tart but anise and cinnamon doesn’t make me think tart. Nonetheless, I made it exactly as directed and boy, oh boy, I am so glad I did. Now, I cannot imagine making it any other way. A good number of years after first making this pie I stumbled upon the recipe online and read some of the comments. I saw there that a number of folks felt the same way at first and even mentioned that they made the pie without those two ingredients. I have always wanted to write in and say how much I think those folks are missing out, but hey their loss, right? Honestly, whatever you do, trust this recipe. Trust that your pie will not taste like licorice or cinnamon, trust that even adding nutmeg to the cherries is not going to make it “odd”. I can’t stress this enough. In fact this recipe is perfect exactly as written and as such I am going to provide you with the instructions, pretty much as they were written back in 2007 or you can simply use the links at the bottom of the post to go to the original Bon Appetit recipes on the Epicurious website.
Before you go to the recipe let me just give you a few of my thoughts. First off you can get the Morello cherries and the dried tart cherries (Montmorency) at Trader Joes. Second when you need to crack the nutmeg in half, do so gently with a meat mallet or a small hammer. If you hit it too hard you’ll crush it to small pieces (which will fly in every direction) and also you might not be able to find all those tiny bits after the cherries have cooked. Third, while you can make and eat this pie on the same day (given that you have ample cooling time), I find it much better to make this pie a day ahead of when you want to serve it. That will give the pie plenty of time to really set up properly, plus I think it tastes better too. You will need your food processor to make the crust and you'll need a 9-inch pie pan for the pie but no other special equipment. Generally I make the filling first then as it cools (and it must be completely cool before proceeding) I make the crust.
Triple Cherry Pie
1 (24- to 24.7-ounce) jar dark Morello cherries in light syrup
3 tablespoons cornstarch
½ cup dried tart cherries (about scant 3 ounces)
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
1 whole nutmeg, cracked in half with mallet
1 whole star anise
1 pound fresh Bing cherries, pitted
½ cup sugar
2 Best-Ever Pie Crust dough disks (recipe follows)
Whipping cream (for glaze)
Strain the syrup from Morello cherries into a measuring cup then combine drained Morello cherries, ¼ cup of strained Morello syrup, and cornstarch in medium bowl and stir to blend.
Combine remaining strained Morello syrup, dried cherries, cinnamon, nutmeg, and star anise in heavy large saucepan. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until cherries are plump, about 10 minutes.
Uncover, increase heat to medium, and simmer until mixture bubbles thickly and is reduced to ¾ cup, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes longer.
Discard cinnamon stick, nutmeg, and star anise and then add Bing cherries and sugar and stir over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves; increase heat to medium and simmer until fresh cherries are tender when pierced with sharp knife, about 5 minutes.
Add Morello cherry mixture and stir over medium heat until mixture bubbles and thickens, about 3 minutes.
Transfer pie filling to medium bowl and cool completely. DO AHEAD Can be made 4 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.
Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 400°F.
Roll out 1 pie crust disk on floured surface to 12-inch round. Transfer to 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish. Trim dough overhang to 1 inch.
Spoon cooled filling into crust.
Roll out second pie crust disk on lightly floured surface to 13x10-inch rectangle. Cut dough rectangle lengthwise into 3/4-inch-wide strips. Arrange 5 dough strips across cherry filling in 1 direction and 5 strips in opposite direction, forming lattice and spacing evenly, weaving if desired.
Brush bottom crust edge lightly with cream and press dough strips to crust to seal. Trim any overhang from dough strips. Turn dough edge of bottom crust up over dough strips, pinching gently to seal.
Crimp edges decoratively.
Brush edges and lattice lightly with whipping cream.
Place pie on rimmed baking sheet and bake until crust is golden brown and filling bubbles thickly, about 50 minutes.
Transfer pie to rack and cool to lukewarm, about 2 hours.
Best Ever Pie Crust
2½ cups unbleached all purpose flour
1½ teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
½ cup frozen nonhydrogenated solid vegetable shortening (such as Crisco), cut into ½-inch cubes
5 tablespoons (or more) ice water
Blend flour, sugar, and salt in processor.
Add butter and shortening; using on/off turns, blend until mixture resembles coarse meal.
Transfer mixture to medium bowl and add 5 tablespoons ice water then mix with a fork until dough begins to clump together, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if dry.
Gather dough together and divide dough in half.
Flatten each half into a disk, wrap each disk in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
Dough can be made up to 3 days ahead of time. Keep refrigerated. Soften slightly at room temperature before rolling out.
Do yourself a favor and make this pie. Serve it warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and count yourselves as some of the lucky people who have discovered one of the best things about food.