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Rolled sour cherry pie to you, pita sa visnjama to Serbs

Tart Serbian-Style Cherry Pie (pita sa visnjama), a summer dessert that’s quick but impressive. (Deb Lindsey/For the Washington Post)

Forty years ago, summer days in early July meant perching on tall wooden ladders deep in village cherry trees heavy with dark, almost black, fruit. Large metal buckets equipped with ropes and wooden hooks hung nearby. They filled up quickly as we literally plucked fistfuls of ripe, tart cherries.

That is where the phrase “ripe for the picking” was cemented into my culinary brain. We were grad students then, with lots of visitors, all of whom we sent out to bring in the cherries — sour and the creamy, sweet, pinky-red Queen Anne variety — before the birds could pick the trees bare.

Many a guest gorged on the latter juicy orbs, descending from the leafy heights with chins and shirts smeared in red. But I was after the sour reds grown all over Eastern Europe, especially in the former Yugoslavia and Austro-Hungarian Empire. These are the small, tart cherries used to make visnjevac, a local liqueur, cakes and flaky filo strudel-like confections called pita sa visnjema (rolled cherry pie).

Back then, the process was laborious. After the picking and sorting came the pitting. We did it with a tiny wooden-handled device that was a cross between a hairpin and an oversize darning needle.

My husband’s mother, Desanka, and her cooking buddy, Nana, made lightning work of kilos of fruit. When I tried, it was all pulverized cherries layered in frustration.

Now, of course, there are all sorts of fancy gadgets that make pitting painless.

Never mind. For years, I’ve made this delicious treat, impressing friends who think anything involving filo is too tough to try. But, for a quick summer dessert in a pinch, I’ll take this “pie” over a lattice-topped American pie anytime.

Mitric is a longtime Food section contributor.

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