Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Old Fashioned Cherry Rhubarb Filo Pie

The first heat is upon us. Last weekend, I put on a summer dress and sandals and walked for an entire day amidst the tremors of the New York City heat; I walked endlessly, seemingly without a purpose, yet with a purpose that's hard to explain.

It's funny how the first heat always strikes around the 4th of July -- both in New York and in Belgrade. Tic-toc, the invisible clock of seasons swings its pendulum with remarkable precision between my two home cities, never missing a beat, and even though they are one ocean and 4500 miles apart, Belgrade and New York seasons are twin sisters; just like the farmers markets at Kalenić Street and Union Square are dead ringers -- echoing each other, mirroring each other's produce. The same temperature, the same produce, the same walk...

... yet never quite the same.

I was 14 when I embarked on my very first "heat walk". I had just finished my tennis practice (I was seriously into tennis back then, dreaming about Wimbledon and that kind of stuff), and instead of taking a bus home -- it was crowded and steamy, and the next bus took forever to come (and believe me, forever on a blazing heat of Belgrade's asphalt is like a really long time) -- so rather than standing on the sun waiting for the bus to arrive, I decided to walk back home. It was a long walk, over an hour, perhaps longer. A good part of it was along the edges of Belgrade's Karaburma neighborhood, concrete and desolate, and next to the sprawling New Cemetery... It was not the nicest walking route, yet I enjoyed it immensely. There was a pleasant weakness in my limbs from hitting the ball for four hours, and a slight, yet rewarding ache; a distant feeling that my limbs were not mine but somebody else, that I was a puppet on a string of an invisible magician and he was taking me home. I was levitating, weightless, looking at the world from the outside of my body, recounting the practice, replaying my best moves, re-assessing the errors, until it all disappeared in the trembling hot air of Belgrade asphalt and I was just walking.

Somewhere around the Engineering Hall of Belgrade University, next to the statue of Vuk Karadžić, I stopped for a glass of cold lemonade. And I kept going. But rather than going back home, I took a turn at the Revolution Boulevard, crossed the Marx and Engels Square right where it spills into the Terazije street and kept going. Into the belly of the Old Town, into the old district of Skadarlija, all the way to the Kalemegdan Fortress. And I kept going.

When, many hours later, I finally entered the cool, dark lobby of our apartment building, and climbed the stairs to our third-floor apartment, my mother was already waiting for me at the doorstep, holding a big plate of cherry pie. It was gently warm, deeply golden and crunchy, and besotted with cherries. Mom used just the right amount of sweet and sour cherries, and the pie was sweet and tart at the same time, and very refreshing. And it smelled like pie heaven. Mom used to keep pieces of vanilla bean inside the jar of confectioner's sugar -- it was her secret -- so whenever she dusted the pie, a small blizzard of vanilla-infused white speckles would seize over the kitchen -- and your senses -- and take you places.

No surprise then that I've been walking ever since -- now, even more than ever -- chasing the heat and the feeling of being outside of your body, trailing the scent of a warm cherry pie, wondering where it will take me next.

Yet, the heat of New York's summer is never as brilliant, as intense, as powerful, as punishing, as the wave of hot air dissipating from the streets of Belgrade, trembling violently -- just like the ambitions and desires of its residents -- reaching for the sky, stretching towards the place where Sava River meets the horizon, and beyond, into unknown. And sour cherries are almost impossible to find here in New York City; and when they do show up at the market, it's only for a week or two, tiny and shy, unlike their plump, ruby-like sisters at the Kalenić Market.

"You cannot have it all," whispered the magician once, pulling the invisible string.

"It's OK," I whispered back to him. "As long as I can feel the heat, and the ache that comes with it. As long as it takes me places, leaving behind the red dust from the clay courts of Karaburma and the scent of vanilla infused powder sugar. As long as there are new heats to chase. And new markets. It's perfectly OK."

Cherry and Rhubarb Filo Pie

I found rhubarb to be a wonderful replacement for sour cherries in this recipe. It's essential for that unique "tiny bit sweet, tiny bit tart" feeling. But if you have sour cherries handy, by all means, be my guest, you cannot go wrong. Becasue this recipe is more a technique than a recipe, it's really about getting that special crunch and making sure that the fruits are perfectly creamy. The pie works with all kinds of fruits -- apples, blueberries, apricots... And it loves savory fillings too!

* 6 sheets of thin filo dough
* 7 oz rhubarb, cut into small dice (about 1/4- to 1/2-inch)
* 9 oz pitted sweet cherries, cut in half
* 4 oz sugar
* 2 tbsp bread crumbs
* 1/3 cup sunflower oil
* confectioner's sugar (for dusting)

Preheat the oven to 375F (350F convection).

In a medium bowl, mix the fruits, sugar and bread crumbs.

In a small sauce pan, over medium heat, warm the oil so that it is almost bubbling. (Don't skip this part, because the hot oil is essential for the crunch.)

Place one sheet of the dough on the work surface and brush with hot oil. Top with another sheet, and again brush with the hot oil. Top with the third sheet. Spread half of the fruits along the long edge of the sheet. Leave the last 3-4 inches (the third of the sheet) empty, and brush that section with oil. Gently roll the filo into a roll. Transfer the rolled-up pie, seam side down, to a large baking sheet covered with parchment paper, and brush with more of the hot oil. Repeat with the remaining three sheets and fruits, to make another roll.

Bake for about 50 minutes, or until the pie is golden brown and crisp. Turn the baking sheets halfway through for even browning. Dust with confectioners’ sugar, and serve barely warm or at room temperature. 

Serves 4 - 6


  1. Your posts remind me so much of my Easter European childhood! There is a little Hungarian pastry/coffee shop on Amsterdam Ave and 110 where I used to find the sour cherry filo pies. Rhubarb sounds like a perfect "trick".

    1. Oh, I go there often, for the same reason :)

  2. I love filo dough! It must be so delicious with rhubarb. Really love your photography style, they make the pies look extra crispy and yummy!

  3. Oh how I miss sour cherries, but rhubarb is a good substitute. Heat wears me down, I prefer the cool coastal weather where I live.

    1. You are right, rhubarb is a good sub, but I still miss them too.

  4. HI, I've never heard of the hot oil trick, and I've read many, many fillo based recipes! I will def give this a try in my next go round. Have you tried this with butter? I generally use butter or olive oil.

    1. Please let me know if it worked out. I use sunflower oil only, mainly because I grew up with it, and that's how my mom and my grandmothers made their pies, so it's sort of like sunflower oil and nothing else :)


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.