Urban Foraging in Detroit: Street Cherry Pie

A few days ago, my friend Andy & I discovered that a local neighborhood tree harbored a delicious secret.  Looking at it from afar, you may not suspect anything; but walk by it and look up (or around you, on the ground), and you are in for a surprise. Who knew that a tree on a high-traffic street in Detroit could bear such great gifts?

If you want to make a cherry pie from scratch, you must first walk down a street in Detroit and pick the cherries… Isn’t that how it goes?

The tree:

The sweet surprise inside:

The bowl of cherries we picked (after getting permission from the owner):

Cherries the next morning, ready to be pitted (the low-tech way — with a straw):

If you are wondering how to pit cherries with a straw, here’s how: poke the straw through the cherry top and push the pit through the bottom.  Most of the cherry remains intact.  Pit the cherries over a bowl to conserve juice.

Cherries, post-pitting:

At this point, the cherries were simmered with sugar, almond extract and corn starch, and laid into a pie crust which was prepared a few hours earlier.

The unbaked pie (ready to take a swan dive off the balcony?):

The pie after it emerges from the oven:

A slice:

Andy tests it out:

Well, he has not keeled over… it must be ok!

Our Detroit Cherry Pie (a.k.a. Street Cherry Pie) turned out great. The pie’s goodness was partly due to the (butterless) buttery crust and the tartness of the cherries. People who lack a sweet tooth will find this tart pie tasty and palatable; those with more of a sweet tooth can sweeten it by sprinkling sugar on top or eating it with vanilla ice cream.

The greatest part of this pie, though, was knowing that the cherries came from a tree just across the street, in our own neighborhood, in Detroit. I know that some of the soil in Detroit is said to be of questionable quality (especially areas by brown fields), but I was willing to overlook that if it meant that I could have a warm cherry pie. One pie never hurt anybody that I know of. Why not?

And to think that this could be just a taste of what’s out there – Detroit’s got a lot of land and a lot of plants and trees scattered in between abandoned lots.  I know for one that there is a bunch of mint growing in the alley down the street from our apartment. Mulberries abound, of course; apples are there, too, but they’re usually spotty (you can sometimes cut the spots out).  I wouldn’t be surprised to find raspberry or blackberry thickets here or there.

Urban foraging is nothing new — it is a popular pasttime with many already — but if you don’t know what it is, here’s an excerpt about why you should do it from Urban Foraging & Guerilla Gardening:

The idea of urban harvesting is appealing on several levels. It saves money (free food!), it reduces waste (all that fruit isn’t rotting on the ground) and it builds community (both by forcing interaction between strangers, and within the group of Urban Edibles participants themselves).

They also offer some “guidelines”:

  • Don’t take more than you need. “A tree full of ripe black cherries can be really exciting but how many will you use before they go bad?”
  •  Ask permission before you pick. “We do not condone unsanctioned harvesting practices or trespassing.”
  •  Pick in a balanced and selective manner. “The last thing we want is to damage the sources from which we harvest!”
  •  Watch out for pesticides and other contaminants. “Paint chips, pesticides, motor oil spills and even car wash runoff can affect the quality of the sources you pick from.”

From another article about an established urban forager: “Food is everywhere — we’ve just forgotten how to find it.”

Here was the pie recipe I used, from here:

Ingredients

  • 1 recipe pastry for a 9 inch double crust pie
  • 4 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 4 cups pitted cherries
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
 Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (205 degrees C). Place bottom crust in piepan. Set top crust aside, covered.
  2. In a large mixing bowl combine tapioca, salt, sugar, cherries and extracts. Let stand 15 minutes. Turn out into bottom crust and dot with butter. Cover with top crust, flute edges and cut vents in top. Place pie on a foil lined cookie sheet — in case of drips!
  3. Bake for 50 minutes in the preheated oven, until golden brown.

Here is the crust recipe, the Best Ever Pie Crust:

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup shortening
  • 1/2 cup water

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in water until mixture forms a ball. Divide dough in half, and shape into balls. Wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.
  2. Roll out dough on a floured counter. Don’t over work it. Use as directed in pie

Bon appetit!

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