The murder weapon in my third Gaston the Poodle mystery is a pie. Not just any old pie, but a Cherry Berry Peach Pie. My character, Beatrice, enters into a pie contest at the county Fair, but instead of winning a prize, her pie kills the judge. Dessert pies were invented by American housewives, and my character, Beatrice, is following a long tradition of pie baking. When I was growing up, no Sunday dinner was complete without one of Mom’s pies. She mastered the art of a perfect pie. Not only Mom, but all the church ladies at ice cream socials, baked delectable pies. Still warm from the oven, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream melting on the side, dissolving in your mouth like a piece of heaven. Beatrice’s pie could be no less.
I found the recipe for Cherry Berry Peach Pie in a little cook booklet, Blue Ribbon Winners of the Wisconsin State Fair, 1860-1974, that lay dormant in a china cabinet drawer until I started the search for a catchy pie recipe, When my husband found a good deal on cherries on Face Book Marketplace, I knew this was the golden opportunity to create Beatrice’s suspect pastry. I immediately bought blueberries and peaches and set about to bake a pie.
First, I called my brother-in-law, Paul, the pie guru. He gave me great advice for making a tender, flaky crust. Disclaimer: I did not make the pie crust from scratch. I cheated and purchased a refrigerated pie crust. But he did give me some hints for making the lattice top. For a murderer to sabotage a pie by adding poison, I figured Beatrice needed to bake a pie with an open top.
I assembled all the ingredients and reread the recipe. I noticed in the ingredients, 3 Tbsp. of flour was listed, but there was no mention of flour in the directions. What does one do with flour if you’re not making the crust? I consulted my go-to reference, The Better Homes and Garden Cook Book, also from 1974. The recipes for both peach and blueberry pie called for that same amount of flour to be combined with the dry ingredients, then added to the fresh fruit. So that’s what I did.
After I added the sugars, flour, salt, and cinnamon to the fruit, I was ready to tackle the lattice top crust. Watching a video on YouTube was a no-brainer for directions on forming the top crust. WRONG! The server was down. Back to my trusty cook book. However, instead of the explicit video I was expecting to use, all I had was one small picture and a paragraph of directions, i.e. Cut pastry strips 1/2 to 3/4 inch wide. I got out my ruler and measured before I cut. Lay strips on pie at one inch intervals. Back with the ruler. Fold back alternate strips to help you weave crosswise strips over and under. Huh? The picture showed the strips starting at the middle and working to the outer rim with every other one folded back. Easier read than done. Trim strips. Crimp. Seal.
I tried using a knife handle to make a fluted edge, like the picture on the previous page in the cook book. My flutes went flat, so I tried pinching them. They didn’t cooperate. Some were bunched up and fat, some were skinny, none were nice and even, like the picture in the cook book. See picture of my finished pie with ‘killer’s’ hand. The pie was ready for the oven.
When I removed the pie to cool, the fruit did shine like jewels beneath the crust, just like I imagined when I described it in my book. How would it taste? I took it to a Fourth of July picnic to test it out on unbiased relatives. When I explained they were helping me test out the recipe for my latest book, I found some willing volunteers, including my husband. A slice of pie, a scoop of ice cream. No poison.
The results? The pie was delicious. Even though it wasn’t as pretty as the fancy pastry described in the book, the flavors did not disappoint. All the flavors of summer in one bite—lush juicy peaches, tart cherries and sweet blueberries. The recipe was a winner. I would definitely make it again, but next time, I tackle the art of making a crust. As one cook describes it: “creating long, fine layers with streaks of butter between them.” Light enough to melt in your mouth yet strong enough to hold the filling in place. My mom, Beatrice, and the church ladies would give me their blessing.
Cherry Berry Peach Pie (my version)
- 3 cups sliced peeled peaches (about 6)
- 1 cup fresh blueberries
- 1 cup pitted halved fresh sour cherries
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 3 Tbsp. flour
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- ¼ tsp. cinnamon
- pastry for 2 crust pie
- granulated sugar to sprinkle on lattice top
In large bowl mix together peaches, blueberries, and cherries. Gently stir in brown sugar, granulated sugar, flour, salt, and cinnamon. Line a 9” pie plate with half of pastry, trim overhang to 1”. Turn fruit into pie. Roll out remaining pastry and cut into strips. Arrange strips over fruit in lattice fashion. Fold strips under edge of pastry, make rim and flute edges. Brush with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 450 for 10 min. Reduce heat to 350 and bake 45-50 min. longer until pastry is brown and fruit tender. Serve warm or cool.
Note: Original recipe called for sweet cherries. If switching, sprinkle 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice on fruit and reduce brown sugar to ¼ cup