Food and family go together sometimes. It may be true that we are what we eat, but I think it also is true that we eat what we are. Cherries Dolores is a dessert that comes straight from my parents’ lives in Door County while I was growing up.
My parents liked to entertain with fish boils. Real fish boils are done outside over a wood fire. As a person transplanted from the Chicago area, my father experienced local fish boils and quickly learned to produce them himself. We had fish boils at our summer cottage at Clark’s Lake, and after we moved to our home on Bay Shore Drive where we had a large yard on the bay, we had fish boils in our yard. My father was the fish boil chef, and my brothers and I were assistants. My mother made salad and dessert. Both parents prepared the potatoes and onions prior to the cooking event. The fish was lake trout, and after trout became unavailable, whitefish. The guests were friends or business acquaintances. Once we entertained Governor Warren Knowles and people in politics.
I don’t remember a fish boil without cherries Dolores. My mother’s name is Dolores; it is named after her for lack of another name for it. She gave the recipe to the world in her 1989 cookbook, Door County Recipes Old and New : and a Little Local Lore, by Dolores Allen, illustrated by Kathleen Whitt.
This dessert is easy to make. It is good anytime, and when served at a fish boil, it ends a mostly white main course (fish, potatoes and onions topped with lots of melted butter) with a tart, colorful burst of flavor.
1 stick soft butter
1 ¼ cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
Mix well and press firmly in the bottom of a 9-inch square cake pan. Bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees until a delicate golden color. Cool well before adding next layer.
1 package vanilla pudding and pie filling mix (not instant).
Prepare according to package directions. Cool well. Spoon onto the cooled crust.
1-lb. can tart cherries (2 cups)(unsweetened)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
½ to ¾ cup sugar
Combine in a saucepan and cook until thickened and clear. Chill before spooning over the pudding later. (One can of cherry pie filling may be used instead, if you wish.)
Top with 2 cups of whipped cream or whipped topping. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
In order for this to work, I think we need to either double the middle and top layer ingredients, or halve the crust and make it in a small baking dish, about 6 x 8 inches or 7 x 7 inches. I say this because when I follow my mother’s recipe, the middle and top layers barely cover the layers below. More dessert is needed to fill the space. If we make half a batch of crust and use the smaller dish, it works quite well, but it serves four to six people rather than a large gathering of people. I loved my mother, but I think she didn’t remember what she had been doing all those years correctly when she put it on paper.
Also, I prefer real food over manufactured mixes, so for many years I have made the middle layer out of vanilla cornstarch pudding rather than packaged pudding mix. I don’t know if packaged pudding mix is still available in the grocery stores. Recipes for vanilla pudding can be found in many cookbooks. Be sure to make it thick enough to hold its shape after chilling or the layers will collapse.
The cookbook is out of print, but it is available at some public libraries in Wisconsin, the Door County Maritime Museum in Sturgeon Bay until they run out, or (used) from Amazon.com. Our family has run out of copies. Needless to say, my opinion is that this is the best cookbook in the world.