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Classic Cherry Pie from Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood

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.

cherry pie with heart cutouts
Photo: Casey Barber

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?!

cherry pie slice
Photo: Casey Barber

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, I wanted 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.

cherry pie with heart cutouts
Photo: Casey Barber

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 made a delightful discovery.

cherry pie slice with vanilla ice cream
Photo: Casey Barber

Namely, that an enterprising writer for Best Life magazine dug Nancy Clutter’s actual cherry pie 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, and I use fresh sour cherries and homemade pie crust.

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).

cherry pie with heart cutouts

Jolene, I could not agree more. Here is my take on the Clutter family cherry pie.

cherry pie with heart cutouts

Nancy Clutter's Cherry Pie

Yield: 1 9-inch pie
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Additional Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours

Classic cherry pie figures in a scene from Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, and this version is inspired by the original Clutter family recipe.

Ingredients

Crust

  • 3 cups (360 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cubed
  • 7-8 tablespoons ice water

Filling

  • 2 1/2 pounds cherries (Nancy used sour cherries in the book, but feel free to substitute sweet cherries)
  • 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar if using sweet cherries, 1 1/4 cups (250 grams) if using sour cherries
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • heavy cream (for brushing the crust; optional)
  • turbinado sugar (for sprinkling the crust; optional)

Instructions

Make the crust:

  1. Pulse the flour, sugar, and salt together in a food processor.
  2. Add the butter and pulse on and off for 3 seconds each until the mixture resembles cornmeal (about 10 seconds total).
  3. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and sprinkle with the ice water.
  4. 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.
  5. Divide the dough into two disks and wrap each in plastic.
  6. Refrigerate for 30 minutes while you pit your cherries and preheat your oven to 450 degrees F.

Make the filling:

  1. Combine the cherries, sugar, and salt in a large saucepan over medium heat, and stir occasionally until the sugar and salt have dissolved and the liquid starts to steam and bubble.
  2. Whisk the flour and cornstarch together in a separate bowl.
  3. Reduce the heat to low and sprinkle the flour and cornstarch over the cherries, stirring constantly until the liquid is slightly thickened.
  4. Take the cherry filling off the heat and stir in the butter and vanilla extract.

Assemble and bake:

  1. 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.
  2. Drape the dough over the rolling pin to transfer it to the pie plate.
  3. Pour the cherry filling into the bottom crust (keep back some liquid if it looks like it'll drown your pie).
  4. Roll out the second dough disk and cut the top crust as you please.
  5. I like to cut out shapes with a cookie cutter as a top crust design, but you can weave lattice strips or keep the dough as a round.
  6. However, remember to cut slits for air vents in an intact top crust so steam can escape from the hot, bubbling filling bubbling.
  7. Brush the crust with cream and sprinkle with turbinado sugar, if desired.
  8. Bake at 450 degrees F for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees.
  9. Bake for another 45 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the pie filling is bubbling through.
  10. Cool the pie on a rack for at least 1 hour before serving to let the juices thicken.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 359Total Fat: 8gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 19mgSodium: 423mgCarbohydrates: 67gFiber: 5gSugar: 22gProtein: 7g

The nutritional information above is computer-generated and only an estimate.

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5 Comments

  1. I love the bats! And pies. If I recall correctly, we ate pie on the morning of our college graduation.

  2. This actually rules. I’m totally impressed and ravenously hungry. Love this article!

  3. Such a genius idea! And I love that the recipe came from ‘In Cold Blood.’

  4. The bats are great! You could also make the shapes match the theme of the book (guns, knives, other murder weapons), etc.

    I cannot confirm pie the morning of your graduation.

  5. I love the bats, but I especially love the little lobster lurking at the edge of the plate.

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