It’s the Pits

After a recent sojourn into the New Jersey “Garden State” hinterlands, we came home with a good supply of those elusive sour cherries. Even as this is being written, the pie is in the oven. Lattice crust? Is there any other kind? Lard’s in that crust, so you know it is going to be crispy and flakey. Just like you know that when Cooky Cat is in the mix, it will also be flakey. Not so much crispy, but maybe furry.

We even went to the local Williams Sonoma for a cherry pitter. The clerk said that it was really a cherry “stoner”, but that usage was ill-advised. (Something about the good old hippie days… as in, “Hey man, don’t Bogart that cherry stoner, please.”) When we learned that the pits of sour cherries just popped out, back to the store that pitter/stoner went. We are not in favor of a tool for every purpose under heaven. In fact, if we had our druthers, it would be a pot, a knife, a spoon, and a bowl. We are pre-Martha (Stewart) all the way.

Here is the cherry pie alluded to previously. Notice the drape. It is mom's very own pastry cloth.

We are also all for using the whole hog, so to speak. So the kiddies are being busied weaving place mats out of the cherry stems. (Hey, Emma and Lily, lay them straight!) And, you probably want to know, what about the pits?

With the pits you make the mahleb, silly. Didn’t you know that? Really? (Martha, it is not our job to educate the masses! Get on that one, will you?)

Mahleb is the powder of the kernel of the St. Lucie Cherry. Wikipedia will give you the lowdown. You may know it under any one of these alternate spellings: محلب, مَحْلَب, mahlab, mahalab, mahleb, מהלב, mahaleb, mahlep, mahalep, μαχλέπι, μέχλεπι, mahlepi, machlepi or makhlepi.

Why all the fuss. Well Cooky Cat is a bit fussy. Some say, finicky. But mahleb is the indispensible ingredient for the ambrosial and nonpareil maamoul.

(To all you Cooky Cat loyalists. We like to separate the men from the boys, so to speak, and give the real goodies later in the writing. Those philistines who just drop in and see cherry pits will go to other Internet amusements. Let them. We, however, know that staying with Cooky Cat a while will bring purr-fectly surprising results.)

So what is maamoul? Didn’t you mama make maamoul? Oh là là! Mama! You people!

Maamoul is a semolina flour shortbread cookie/pastry filled with things like dates, pistachios, walnuts, or figs. Each filling typically has its own design pressed into the pastry dough. You can do this by hand or there are special wooden molds that will give your maamoul a beautiful design. The filling and imprinting the design is a project to get the kids away from their texting’s and tweeting’s and electronic socializing’s.

Bake and dust liberally with powdered sugar. Some good, robust coffee. You’re there.

Don’t be intimidated by the newness of maamoul. Very easy to make. Just some steps. The fixings are at the Middle Eastern shop on the corner. Just tell the nice lady you want to make maamoul and she will take you by the hand and guide you the rest of the way. Maybe even impart her own secret recipe.

Here it is from someone who has maamoul in her blood, mahleb in her bones...