Cherry Pie: a tasty family tradition


Cherry Pie

With six kids it was always busy, even hectic, for my mom.

Between the shopping and the chauffeuring, wrangling two St. Bernards – not to mention the sheer workload of keeping us fed and clothed – the occasional dessert was mostly made by one of us kids: usually something like a box of brownie mix.

Cherry pie? Ninety-nine percent of the time, it was as far away as the moon.


Except in February, when George Washington’s birthday came around. Once upon a time, it was a holiday all by itself, when the “cannot tell a lie” myth was recounted in school, and Founding Father phrases surfaced in our history lessons.Cherry Pie via@kingarthurflourThat was when my mom would dive into her Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook (a wedding gift in 1951), and make a double pie crust after bringing home some canned sour cherries from the store.

Just the right amount of sugar, a touch of cinnamon, almond extract, a drop or two of red food coloring (to put back the color the water in the can had stolen), and some Minute Tapioca.

Ahhh, what bliss. We were transported.

One of the first recipes I agitated to add to our website many moons ago was that cherry pie: our Presidential Cherry Pie, in fact. You can click on the link to get to the recipe; it’s pretty simple. Meanwhile, come with me and we’ll put a couple of cherry pies together.

First, pie dough. I went into detail about how I go about it in this blog post, using our All-Butter Pie Crust.

Once your dough is made and resting comfortably in the fridge, it’s time to mix up the filling.

Cherry Pie via@kingarthurflour

On the left, individually quick frozen (IQF) sour cherries. Center, bottled cherry pie filling. Right, canned sour cherries in water. Notice the water is more red than the cherries!

Today, when the yen to recreate that perfect pie moment occurs, there are more and better cherry options to choose from.

My first choice, when I can find them, are IQF sour cherries. Our local coop sometimes has them in the freezer case.

Prepared cherry pie filling is probably the last place I’d go, but I will confess to being particular about letting anyone else do my seasoning for me.

On the right are the canned sour cherries my mom relied on. Believe me, if the choice is those or no pie, I will choose the cans every time.

Pie hint #1: Grease your pie pan

Before putting in the bottom crust, grease your pan.

Why doesn’t anybody ever tell you this? How many times have you mangled the business of taking out your first slice of pie? Granted, that sacrificial slice is a bonus for the cook in the kitchen, but it can make for some pretty awkward moments if you’re trying to serve at the table. Unless you’re blind-baking a pie shell, this is a default setting.

Now for the filling. You have a choice here: our recipe calls for either Pie Filling Enhancer or quick-cooking tapioca for thickener. I made one pie with each, so you can get a sense of their different results. If you’d rather use a different thickener, check out our Pie Thickeners Guide for amounts.Cherry Pie via@kingarthurflourThis lined pie plate has the filling that combines 6 cups of sour IQF cherries, 3/4 cup sugar, 1/2 cup Pie Filling Enhancer, 1 teaspoon almond extract, 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Pie hint #2: Top-crust creativity

Sure, you could roll out that top circle, drape it over the filling, cut a few slits in it, crimp the edges, and you’d be a pie-making hero, no question. But I don’t want you to miss the opportunity to really have some fun.

A longstanding chef’s tenet is that the top of a dish should give you a clue as to what’s inside, so I went in search of our cherry pie-top cutter.

Cherry Pie via@kingarthurflourI took a small plate and used it to cut a 5″ circle of dough. Then I cut a cherry silhouette in the middle.

Next I cut a bunch of leaves from the rest of the dough, and started putting it all together on top of the filling. I brushed everything with some egg substitute (Egg Beaters or the store equivalent: my favorite egg wash), and now it’s ready for the oven.

Cherry Pie via@kingarthurflourPie #2 uses instant tapioca as a thickener.

The left photo is how it looked when I mixed the ingredients with the sour IQF cherries. On the right, the filling is in the lined pie pan. It looks different because I microwaved the frozen cherries to thaw them out and let them release some of their juice.

Food science note: tapioca needs to spend some time in liquid (15 to 20 minutes is about right; let the filling rest in a bowl, not the lined pie pan) before cooking, so its starches can take up water and swell. The wonky term for this is pregelatinizing the starch.

Pie hint #3: Give your pie the edge

With the second pie I reached for the cherry cutter and a pie shield. Pie shields are the perfect-sized cutters for top crusts.

Cherry Pie via@kingarthurflourAfter cutting out the top crust, I cut cherry silhouettes and saved the cutouts. Then I used a small, square fluted cutter to harvest a lot of little handkerchief squares, and overlapped them on the outside edge of the pie.

I used a small paintbrush to egg wash the squares and the cutouts, to help them stand out from the unglazed crust.

How did everything turn out?

cherry pie via@kingarthurflourPretty well! Let’s cut into them both, and see how the thickeners did their job.

cherry pie via@kingarthurflourOn the left, Pie Filling Enhancer. (You’d get the same result from a mixture of Instant ClearJel and sugar, by the way; check out the baker’s hint at the bottom of the recipe.) On the right, instant tapioca. The texture is a little less smooth, but they’re both cutting nicely. Feel free to zoom in on those crust cross sections and check out the flake!

Yes, those frozen sour cherries are practically glowing. And no, I didn’t put a single drop of food coloring in the fillings.

Recapturing a food memory can be a tricky thing. I’m grateful for the extra effort my mom made, so I was able to experience how amazing a freshly made cherry pie can be.

The best part is the way that memory informs what I can bake now. I encourage you all to use your favorite pie memory as inspiration, not intimidation. Let it be your starting point for new adventures. We’ll help you, if you’re nervous. Just give us a call, or chat with us online. Let the baking begin!

Please read, print, bake and review our Presidential Cherry Pie. Mr. Washington would be proud of you.

Susan Reid

Chef Susan Reid grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Bates College and the Culinary Institute of America, and is presently the Food Editor of Sift magazine. She does demos, appearances, and answers food (and baking) questions from all quarters.


  1. Mark Sanne

    I never can find iqf sour cherries which I love at the local supermarket. I end up buying all of the fresh ones I can find at the local farmers market for the 2 weeks that they are available and spend hours pitting, freezing and vacuum sealing them for later use.
    However, after much searching I found this family farm that sells them frozen in various quantities. Friske Orchards in northern Michigan.

    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Wow, Mark, that’s great. I’m sure everyone else will appreciate the tip. Thanks for sharing! Susan

    2. Sara Ofenloch

      mark- living in norther MI I am very familiar with Friske and those IQF cherries are such a blessing. Great for jam as well. Stock up.

  2. Tom

    Love the article. I usually bake cherry pies (my favorite) only when cherries are in season (I use tapioca) and I can get fresh but I will try the quick frozen and see how they work.

  3. Kathleen

    I tend to agree with the comment, “Why pollute the fruit?” My go-to recipe, from the Better Homes & Gardens ‘New’ Cookbook, circa 1981, calls for the addition of a bit of lemon zest but no spice. But then, I’ve only ever made cherry pie with the farmer’s market cherries that I am lucky enough to be able to buy and freeze. Canned fruit may be a different story.

    Got to try the tip about greasing the pie pan – haven’t heard that one before.

    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Normally, Kathleen, I’m in your camp. I see spices with fruit as being akin to the jewelry you’d choose for a little black dress. A little something to highlight the beauty of what’s already there. Susan

  4. Joy Bruce

    Does anyone know where frozen pie (tart) cherries can be found in Pennsylvania? My grand daughter lives in the Perkasie area and cannot find them in that area.

    1. Susan Reid, post author

      I know that Wyman’s of Maine sells a combination of sour and bing frozen cherries; they may be worth looking for. I’ve gone to the lengths of picking out just the sour cherries from a package to make this pie! Susan

  5. Colleen

    Susan, thank you for the recipe and helpful hints! My mother always baked a cherry pie for Washington’s birthday too! I usually can only find the canned cherries – my mother had frozen cherries from my grandmother’s cherry tree:) I will plan to make this pie this week in my mother’s memory.

    1. Elaine

      My mother always made a cherry pie on Washington’s birthday too. Her cherries were frozen cherries from a friend’s tree. Only my brother ate it; everyone else in the family disliked cherry pie. But she kept on making it, year after year. I guess she figured she had to keep those traditions alive!

  6. Silvia

    Thank you for sharing your recipes. I live in Southamerica and every time I go to the US I go to Publix to buy the Apple pye. Could you please give me the recipe to bake the pye in my country? Thank you for your help

    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Hola, Sylvia. If you’re looking for an apple pie recipe, we have lots of them to chose from on our recipe site. This is the one I make: Apple Pie

  7. Gloria Goens

    Even though I mix sugar in well, sometimes the sugar will make crunchy areas in the pie instead of blending in smoothly. Do you know the solution?

    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Hi, Gloria. That can partly depend on your thickener. If you’re using Instant ClearJel it needs to be whisked in thoroughly. Another way around this is to take some of the juice from the cherries and dissolve the sugar in it before putting it in the pie. Susan

  8. Christine

    I used frozen sweet cherries as they were on sale and 1 cup of dried sour cherries and tapioca, mixed with the sugar and let it sit for 1/2 hr- delicious!


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