With delicious cherries in season, I head to Levering Orchard in western Virginia for pick-your-own fruit, a lovely outing in a beautiful setting, and cherry recipes to bake when I get home.
story & photos by Bakery Boy
I picked the cherries that went into the pie I’m eating as I write this. There’s a sense of accomplishment—and a certain smug pleasure—in this fact. Besides reveling in buckets full of fresh cherries to snack on raw and to bake into various treats, I also have fresh memories of spending a lovely day in a century-old orchard perched on a verdant slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains just off the road-trip-worthy Blue Ridge Parkway.
At Levering Orchard in western Virginia, the southernmost cherry orchard in the eastern United States, people can drive up, borrow plastic pales, climb wooden ladders already placed in ripe locations, and harvest as much fruit as they want (paying $2.49 per pound as they leave). Red and purple fingers belie the effort, and red and purple tongues offer evidence that sampling while picking is not only common but also encouraged.
Early summer is a great time to visit Levering Orchard, when its roughly 4,000 cherry trees produce countless gorgeous cherries in more than 40 varieties from sweet to sour. The owners also sell spiral-bound $11.95 copies of their Fruit Orchard Cookbook: Over 90 Years of Favorite Family Fruit Recipes from Levering Orchard. Written by third-generation orchard owner Frank Levering and his then-wife Wanda Urbanska—host of the television series Simply Living With Wanda Urbanska and author of several related Simple Living books—it’s a useful resource for baking with all kinds of fruit.
Here’s a basic cherry pie recipe adapted from that 2001 book (so make that subtitle 100 years instead of 90). I’ve noted a few of my own tweaks and tips.
LEVERING ORCHARD CHERRY PIE
- 3 cups tart cherries, pitted
- 2/3 to 1 cup sugar, depending on desired sweetness
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch (or 4 tablespoons flour)
- 1 tablespoon butter or margarine
- Line a 9-inch pie plate with pastry dough (see below).
- Fill with pitted tart cherries.
- Mix sugar and cornstarch (or flour) plus a dash of salt; sprinkle over cherries.
- Dot with butter or margarine.
- Cover with top crust, either weaving a lattice from strips (see below) or cutting slits for steam to escape through a solid crust.
- Bake at 400° for 40 to 50 minutes.
[NOTE: An option I prefer is to stir my cherries into the sugar/flour mix and let them stand for 20 to 30 minutes until a syrup begins to form, then pour them into the prepared pie shell.]
PASTRY DOUGH (for one double-crusted pie)
- 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2/3 cup shortening
- 5 to 7 tablespoons cold water
- Sift together flour and salt.
- Cut in shortening with pastry blender or folk until pieces are the size of small peas.
- Add cold water one tablespoon at a time, working it in gradually with a fork.
- Form dough into two balls, one for the bottom crust and one for the top crust.
- Flatten one ball on a lightly floured surface, rolling from center to edge until dough is about 1/8-inch thick.
- Fit the pastry layer into pie plate and trim dough 1/2 an inch beyond edge.
- For a lattice-top pie, after adding filling, roll remaining dough ball until it is 1/8-inch thick. Cut strips of pastry 1/2-inch wide with a knife or pastry wheel. Lay strips on filled pie at 1-inch intervals. Fold back alternate strips as you weave cross-strips. Trim lattice even with outer rim of pie plate. Fold lower crust up and over top strips and press to seal.
[NOTES: The water should be ice cold. Work the dough as little as possible, just enough to incorporate the water into the other ingredients. After forming dough into balls, let them rest in a cool place, maybe a refrigerator, for an hour or so before rolling out the layers. For a golden brown top, brush it lightly with a beaten egg just before baking.]
Levering Orchard’s Fruit Orchard Cookbook—which includes the cherry pie recipe above as well as recipes for cherry ice cream, cherry cake, cherry compote, cherry cashew cookies, cherry coffee cake, cherry crisp, cherry cupcakes, cherry custard, cherry dumplings, cherry oat muffins, cherry pizza pie, cherry salad, cherry salsa, cherry soup, cherry tiramisu, chocolate cherry biscotti, cherry sauce, cobbler and more—can be purchased for $11.95 at the orchard’s packing house or ordered through the website www.leveringorchard.com. The book also includes recipes involving apples, apricots, peaches, pears, and plums, all of which grow at Levering Orchard.
Levering Orchard lies 2 miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway at Orchard Gap, about 75 miles southwest of Roanoke, Virginia, and 10 miles north of Mount Airy, North Carolina. From I-77 just north of the Virginia-North Carolina border, take exit 8, follow signs leading to the Blue Ridge Parkway via State Route 148 and U.S. 52, turn north on the Parkway, go about 6 miles, between mileposts 193 and 194 turn right on Dusty Ridge Road, which becomes Orchard Gap Road, and watch for the Levering Orchard entrance on the right in one of the steep two-lane’s many tight curves. Cherries ripen from late May through early July. The orchard also produces apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums, and pears ripe for harvest in July and August, and apples from July through November.
163 Levering Lane
Ararat, VA 24053
276-755-4837 cherry hotline
276-755-3593 packing house