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Pies made with fresh summer fruit will have your mouth watering

To my mind, nothing celebrates summer quite like fresh fruit pie. It’s as if we’re taking the best the season has to offer — beautiful, vibrantly colored fruit nurtured to ripeness under a hot sun — and packaging that bounty in a tender, flaky crust. Like a gift.

A great fruit pie is simple perfection.

Almost any summer fruit works in pie: berries, stone fruit — I’ve even seen recipes for grape pie — so long as the fruit has had a chance to ripen. Most fully ripened fruit has a wonderful balance of flavors already, blending sweetness with enough subtle tartness to give a wonderful depth of flavor.

The trick is to keep it simple. Let the fruit speak for itself by not disguising it with a bunch of other flavors — a fruit pie is about the fruit, after all. Keep in mind that as the fruit cooks, the flavors will evolve and soften with natural sweetness.

One of my favorite pies is a classic cherry pie. Although jarred sour cherries are great, I love when I can find them fresh. Problem is, sour cherries have such a small window of availability and might be difficult to find depending on where you live.

I recently tried making a pie using fresh sweet cherries, which are much easier to find. I sweetened the cherries with less sugar, as they’re naturally sweeter, and tossed the pitted fruit with a little Grand Marnier and vanilla to brighten the flavors and to give the cherries a little more depth.

The resulting pie was simple but rich with flavor, and I loved the slightly firmer texture from the fresh fruit.

With fruit pies, it often seems that the consistency of the pie filling can be almost as important as the fruit itself.

As the fruit cooks, it softens, releasing its juices. To keep these juices from turning the pie into a soup as it bakes, a thickener is added. There are several to choose from, with the most common being flour, cornstarch and tapioca.

Although all of the thickeners set up the filling for slicing, each has its characteristics and strengths.

Flour tends to have weaker holding power, and more of it must be used to “set up” a pie filling. But it’s readily available, has a creamy texture and can gently soften the flavors in the filling. When the pie sets, a flour-thickened pie filling tends to have a cloudy appearance with thicker texture.

Cornstarch, on the other hand, has much greater holding power and will give a much more transparent though not quite clear look to the filling. Cornstarch-thickened pies tend to have softer, gel-like fillings.

Tapioca will result in a bright, clear filling, though the granules can give the filling a coarser texture.

A properly thickened pie should have a filling that is strong enough to suspend the fruit but delicate enough to give easily when sliced. Great pie fillings won’t run, but they will ooze just a little, slowly and seductively.

BLACKBERRY PIE

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup sugar, plus extra for dusting the top of the pie

5 tablespoons flour

1 lb. blackberries

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Prepared double-crust, either homemade or storebought Water for brushing the dough to seal the crust

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together the salt, sugar and flour. Gently stir in the blackberries, then drizzle over the lemon juice and gently stir to combine. Set aside the bowl while you prepare the crust.

Gently lift and center the prepared bottom crust over a 9-inch pie dish. Press the dough into the pie dish, making sure to remove any air bubbles from underneath the dough. Fill the pie shell with the fruit filling. Brush the edge of the dough lightly with water (this will help the top crust adhere to the shell).

Place the top crust over the filling. Tuck the edges of the top crust around the bottom crust to seal the pie, pressing the two dough halves together, using your fingers to crimp the edge. Sprinkle a generous coating of sugar over the top of the pie, then slit the top crust to create vents.

Bake the pie in the center of the oven until the crust is lightly golden and set, and the filling is bubbly, about 1 hour. Cool the pie before serving.

Adapted from Ashley Putz of Buffalo Chips Emporium in Amador City, Calif.

Each of 8 servings: 504 calories; 5 grams protein; 63 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams fiber; 26 grams fat; 6 grams saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 28 grams sugar; 108 mg. sodium.

The Wichita Eagle—08/04/10

STRAWBERRY PIE

½ cup sugar

1 cup water, divided

½ cup orange juice, from about 1 large orange

½ cup rum

1 sprig mint

3 tablespoons cornstarch

8 cups strawberries, about 2½ lbs. hulled

1 baked 9-inch single pie crust

In a medium, nonreactive saucepan, stir together the sugar, one-half cup water, the orange juice and the rum. Gently crush the sprig of mint in your hand to release the oils, and place the mint in the pan. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, about 5 minutes, and continue to simmer for 2 to 3 minutes to marry the flavors. Remove from heat.

While the liquid is coming to a simmer, whisk together the cornstarch and remaining one-half cup water to form a slurry. Stir the slurry into the pan, then heat the pan over medium-low heat and cook until the liquid thickens (it should just begin to bubble), 3 to 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and discard the mint sprig.

Arrange the strawberries in the prepared crust. Pour the thickened filling over the berries, then refrigerate the pie 3 to 4 hours to set the filling.

Each of 8 servings: 338 calories; 4 grams protein; 46 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams fiber; 13 grams fat; 6 grams saturated fat; 19 mg. cholesterol; 22 grams sugar; 222 mg. sodium.

The Wichita Eagle—08/04/10

SWEET CHERRY PIE

¾ cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling over the pie

¼ cup cornstarch

6 cups sweet cherries, stemmed and pitted

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons orange liqueur, preferably Grand Marnier

Prepared flaky pie crust for 1 double-crust pie

1 egg

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together the three-fourths cup sugar with the cornstarch. Stir in the cherries, coating completely, then stir in the vanilla and orange liqueur until evenly combined.

Line a 9-inch pie plate with half of the pie crust. Pile in the cherries, sprinkling over the cherries any additional sugar-cornstarch mixture that did not stick to the fruit. In a small bowl, whisk the egg to form a wash. Prepare the top crust, adding decorative cutouts or cutting lattice strips if desired. Cover the top of the pie with the prepared top crust, sealing the edges with the egg wash and cutting vents if needed.

Brush the top of the crust with the egg wash, and sprinkle over a light coating of sugar.

Place the pie in the oven and bake until the crust is a rich golden color and the filling is bubbly and thick, about 1 hour and 15 minutes; rotate the pie halfway through for even coloring, and tent if needed to prevent over-coloring. Cool before serving.

Each of 8 servings: 569 calories; 7 grams protein; 79 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams fiber; 25 grams fat; 12 grams saturated fat; 65 mg. cholesterol; 37 grams sugar; 449 mg. sodium

The Wichita Eagle—08/04/10

NECTARINE ALMOND CRUMBLE PIE

Crumble topping:

2/3 cup whole almonds

½ cup flour

¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon light brown sugar

¼ cup granulated sugar

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon cold butter, cut into ½-inch cubes

Pie:

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons flour

8 cups sliced nectarines

1½ teaspoons almond extract

Prepared, unbaked single pie crust 1 egg

Prepared crumble topping: In the bowl of a food processor, combine the almonds and flour and pulse until the almonds are coarsely chopped and combined with the flour. Add the brown and granulated sugars and cinnamon and pulse again until combined. Add the butter cubes and pulse again until the butter is broken up and the mixture is crumbly.

Make the pie: Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and flour. Stir in the nectarine slices, coating completely, then stir in the almond extract until evenly combined.

Pile the nectarine filling into the prepared pie shell, sprinkling over the slices any additional sugar-flour mixture that did not stick to the fruit. In a small bowl, whisk the egg to form a wash.

Brush the edge of the crust with the egg wash. Drizzle the crumble topping over the fruit slices. Place the pie in the oven and bake until the crust is a rich golden color and the filling is bubbly and thick, about 1 hour. Cool before serving.

Each of 8 servings: 557 calories; 9 grams protein; 74 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams fiber; 26 grams fat; 11 grams saturated fat; 65 mg. cholesterol; 37 grams sugar; 232 mg. sodium

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