Cherry Pie with Hatchets

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In the 1998 facsimile edition of Betty Crocker’s Picture Book (originally released in 1950), there is a picture of this pie above the caption:

Fresh Cherry Pie 

Gay with hatchets and a garland of cherry leaves. 

“Festive ending to a Washington’s birthday dinner. For other occasions, use cutouts of pumpkins for hallowe’en, bells for New Year’s Day, etc.”

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So Washington was great and all but did families 200+ years later really go on throwing him birthday dinner’s en masse? I mean I’m all for any excuse to make a pie but picking long-dead political leaders is a wild one. Maybe I’ll make one for Nixon’s birthday with  cutout audio tapes on it. Or one for Taft’s birthday with cutout bathtubs. Or one for Jackson’s with cutout tear drops. Did I take that too far?

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I only sort of knew why there were hatchets on this one. I knew there was something about George Washington and a tree and lying but the specifics never stuck. Here’s a refresher of the myth, invented by an early Washington biographer. Six year old Georgie Washington got a hatchet for his birthday. Very normal and safe. (He was only six so obviously) he damaged his father’s cherry tree and when his father confronted him he responds “Father, I can not tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet.” Which seems suspiciously respectable for a six year old.

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When I was six I cut the head off a stuffed Velveteen Rabbit (for science) then stuffed the fluffy carnage into a shoe box, wrapped it profusely with electrical tape and disposed of it directly into the bins on the street on garbage day. My mother found it because she is some kind of all-knowing witch. When confronted, I lied profusely and blamed it on my brother because of my strong self-preservation instinct. I did not know that if I warbled off some strange admittance in colonial speak I could have avoided punishment. I could have avoided having my birthday party cancelled. I could have went to laser tag. I could have had pie.

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Cherry Pie with Hatchets

  • Servings: One 9-inch pie; 8 slices
  • Print

For the Crust

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cold and cubed
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1/3 cup + 1-2 tablespoons ice water

In a large bowl  mix together flour, salt and sugar. Add shortening and butter and cut into the dry mix using a pastry cutter. (You can also do this in a food processor). Add 1/3 cup of ice water and toss the mixture with your fingertips until you can get the mixture to come together in a shabby ball. Add  the extra 1-2 tablespoons of water if the mixture is too dry.

Divide the dough ball in half and wrap each piece in plastic. Press down on the dough to form a flatter disk. Chill at least an hour before rolling out and using.

For the Pie

  • 5 cups pitted sour cherries, fresh or frozen (about 2 pounds)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract, optional
  • 2 tablespoons butter, small cubed
  • egg for wash

Preheat oven to 425°. In a large bowl combine pitted cherries, sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch and almond extract, if using. Allow to macerate on the counter for twenty minutes.

Meanwhile, roll out one of the dough disk into a circle large enough to fit your pie plate. Transfer to pie plate and trim off excess dough. If you want to do a simple fluted edge, leave a little overhang so you can tuck it under and then crimp the edge all the way around. If you want to do a leaf design like I did here, trim it off all the way up to the edge of the plate. Roll out the scraps and either use a leaf cookie cutter to cut out the dough or do it freehand with a knife (I do this). When you have enough leaves to go all the way around, use your finger or a pastry brush to moisten the rim of the dough and stick down the leaves in alternating directions. Place the whole shell of the pie in the freezer while you do the hatchets.

Roll out the other disk of dough. If you are lucky enough to have a hatchet cookie cutter, now is your time to shine. If you are unlucky, like me, you will have to improvise. I searched “vintage hatchet cookie cutter” and printed out a picture of one, cut it out and used the paper as my template on the dough. You will need six for a 9-inch pie. Place them on a parchment lined tray and stick them in the freezer to harden.

Take the cold shell from the freezer and fill it with your cherry filling. Use the egg wash to brush the dough around the edges and sprinkle lightly with sugar. Bake the pie in the oven for 30 minutes.

At the 30 minute mark, take the pie out of the oven and place it on a baking tray to catch any drips. Brush the cold hatchets with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar and position them on top of the pie. Make a tent with a long strip of aluminum foil to go around the outside of the crust so it doesn’t burn. Place the whole thing back in the oven for another 35-40 minutes. If using frozen cherries, it will take longer (mine went for a full 60 minutes). The pie is done when it is bubbling in the center. Let cool to room temperature before slicing. 

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