Saturday, September 5, 2009

Can She Bake A (Husk) Cherry Pie?

In some respects, the process of becoming a good eater is almost more fun than the actuality of being one. The road to good eating is paved with firsts--my first portobello mushroom, thick and savory, the piquant crunch of my first pickled okra, the vivid nourishing freshness in my first bite of kale. I may never be the National Geographic explorer to which I once aspired, but I fill my hunger for adventure in the kitchen and the fields. The more unusual the vegetable, the more unexpected the flavors, the more interested I become. As life goes on, however, it becomes harder and harder to surprise me with new tastes. Kohlrabi? I've eaten loads. Cherimoyas? I'm already a fan. I even managed to snag some Colombian fried ants this winter, thanks to a care package from Alina. Thankfully, even as my tastes expand and the realm of the yet-untasted shrinks, I savor my quirky comfort foods: Swiss chard gratin with nutmeg, melon and basil soup, and lemon-cilantro roasted sweet potatoes.

I wonder sometimes how my far-ranging tastes will be expressed in my own future farm. I am, as Andrew reminds me, a bit more daring than the average consumer, for whom eggplant is a walk on the wild side, rather than a seasonal staple. If I grow the unusual varieties and unorthodox veggies which send me into raptures, will I be able to convince anyone else to buy them? My characteristic enthusiasm may be contagious, but rare is the brave soul who has yet taken me up on my suggestion of chocolate-covered radishes (seriously--try it. The sharp, juicy crunch of a radish is perfectly mediated by the rich creaminess of dark chocolate. But then, what isn't improved by a dunking in cacao?) I plan to offer lots of free samples.

Husk cherries (aka ground cherries, uchuvas, or cape gooseberries) are the latest revelation in my quest for novel edibles. Enclosed in a papery shell like a miniature tomatillo, ground cherries hang from their low-growing plants like Chinese lanterns. Within the husks, the fruit resembles a golden marble with an tart, almost tropical flavor. Husk cherries are perfectly delicious on the own as a summer fruit snack, but if you're feeling fancy and want to truly impress, I recommend a ground cherry pie.

Husk Cherry Pie
adapted from the excellent Mennonite cookbook Simply in Season

for the crust:
1/2 cup white flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 t sugar
1/3 cup butter
3 tablespoons ice water

for the filling:
3 cups husk cherries, husks removed
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter

Prepare the crust: mix the dry ingredients together in a food processor, then add the cold butter, chopped into 4 or 5 pieces. Pulse the butter and dry ingredients until they resemble coarse crumbs. Add the cold water and pulse until the dough forms a ball. Remove from the food processor, shape it into a ball, wrap it in cling wrap and chill it in the fridge for at least one hour.

Preheat the oven to 425. Roll out the dough on a well floured surface until it lines a 9 or 10 inch pie pan. Prick the crust with a fork, cover it with alumnium foil, and blind bake it for 5 minutes. This will make the crust crispier.

Prepare the filling: Sprinkle a little of the sugar in the bottom of the crust. Mix the remaining sugar with the flour, the fruit, and the lemon juice. Pour into the pie crust. Sprinkle the top of the pie with the cinnamon and small daps of the butter. (I find that the golden berries are so pretty that a lattice crust is completely unneccesary) Bake at 425 for 10 minutes then reduce the heat to 350 and continue baking for an additional 25-30 minutes.

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