Last updated on February 15th, 2021
Written and Photographed by Rebecca Peters-Golden
Today we’re proud to introduce Eating My Words, a new feature by contributor Rebecca Peters-Golden where we’ll revisit food scenes from literature and recreate the dishes described therein. Rebecca, a graduate student in literature at Indiana University, is also a compulsive baker who has been known to make three-layer chocolate cakes out of boredom, so we’re happy to make the most out of her vast talents with this series.
While visiting my sister in Philadelphia this past December, I was bemoaning the grayness of winter and wishing for more fun in my life.
Always eager to make me stop whining help, my sister suggested that I participate in the Philadelphia Artclash Collective‘s annual “Fun-A-Day,” through which I might combat precisely such grayness and lack of amusement by creating something every day of January.
Projects ranged from the artistic (some genius painted a picture of a Buffy character every day) to the happenstance, and everything in between. But what would I do that would be truly fun?!
In the year and a half before Fun-A-Day, I had been working on my dissertation in literature and feeling a creeping anxiety that reading for pleasure was becoming a thing of the past.
To this end, I wanted not only to do something that would combine my favorite things—reading and cooking—but also to remind myself of the pleasure I take in reading by removing it from the realm of the purely academic and placing it in the realm of . . . well . . . fun.
So, I decided to recreate some of my favorite moments of food in literature. And then, you know, eat them.
Now, six months and many, many sticks of butter later, I feel at peace with literature and more excited about food than ever.
For my first good food story, then, here is Truman Capote’s combination of literature and food: a scene from In Cold Blood, Capote’s non-fiction novel that tells the story of the 1959 Clutter murder in Holcomb, Kansas.
In this scene, seventeen year-old Nancy Clutter teaches a young neighbor to bake a cherry pie.
Midway through my Fun-A-Day, while also writing a chapter of my dissertation that includes this scene, I was totally delighted to find that an enterprising writer for Best Life magazine dug Nancy Clutter’s actual recipe out of the New York Public Library archives.
I’ve modified her recipe a bit—for one thing, Nancy used pre-made piecrusts and frozen cherries—with good results. Capote writes:
“Nancy and her protégée, Jolene Katz, were . . . satisfied with their morning’s work; indeed, the latter, a thin thirteen-year-old, was agog with pride. For the longest while she stared at the blue-ribbon winner, the oven-hot cherries simmering under the crisp lattice crust, and then she was really overcome, and hugging Nancy, asked, ‘Honest, did I really make it myself?’ Nancy laughed, returned the embrace, and assured her that she had—with a little help. . . . Jolene cut a piece of pie. ‘Boy!’ she said, wolfing it down. ‘I’m going to make one of these every day seven days a week’ ” (24-25).
Jolene, I could not agree more. Here is my take on the Clutter family cherry pie.
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, cubed
- 7-8 tablespoons ice water
- 4 cups cherries, pitted (Nancy used sour cherries in the book, but feel free to substitute sweet cherries)
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup heavy cream (for brushing the crust; optional)
- 2 tablespoons turbinado sugar (for sprinkling the crust; optional)
Make the crust:
- Pulse the flour, sugar, and salt together in a food processor.
- Add the butter and pulse on and off for 3 seconds each until the mixture resembles cornmeal (about 10 seconds total).
- Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and sprinkle with the ice water.
- Mix gently with hands until the dough comes together in a ball (add another tablespoon of ice water if dough is too dry).
For more photos of the process, see Casey's great step-by-step pie crust instructions.
- Divide the dough into two disks and wrap each in plastic.
- Refrigerate for 30 minutes while you pit your cherries and preheat your oven to 450 degrees F.
Make the filling:
- Combine the cherries, sugar, and salt in a large saucepan over medium heat, and stir occasionally until the sugar and salt have dissolved.
- Reduce the heat to low and add cornstarch, stirring constantly until the liquid is slightly thickened and the cherries are soft and slightly macerated.
- Take the cherry filling off the heat and stir in the butter and vanilla extract.
Assemble and bake:
- Remove the dough disks from the fridge and roll one disk out on a floured surface until the round is about two inches larger than your pie plate.
- Drape the dough over the rolling pin to transfer it to the pie plate.
- Pour the cherry filling into the bottom crust (keep back some liquid if it looks like it'll drown your pie).
- Roll out the second dough disk and cut the top crust as you please.
- I like to cut shapes with a cookie cutter and overlay them, but you can weave lattice strips or keep the dough as a round.
- However, remember to cut slits for air vents in an intact top crust so steam can escape from the hot, bubbling filling bubbling.
- Brush the crust with cream and sprinkle with turbinado sugar, if desired.
- Bake at 450 degrees F for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees.
- Bake for another 30 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the pie filling is bubbling through.
- Cool the pie on a rack for at least 30 minutes before serving to let the juices thicken.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 454Total Fat: 29gSaturated Fat: 18gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 77mgSodium: 404mgCarbohydrates: 45gFiber: 3gSugar: 14gProtein: 5g
The nutritional information above is computer-generated and only an estimate.