Saturday, October 2, 2010

Tried and True - Apple Pie

Note to readers - this post is a column I wrote for our county newspaper a few years ago. Given our current economic conditions and work-in-progress health insurance system it still rings true.   See my Thursday post for a more in depth pie crust discussion and video.

This is the time of year for a special visit to an apple orchard.  Buy plenty of Minnesota apples - some for eating out of hand, some for applesauce or pie or crisp or salads or . . . .   Here is a Minnesota Grown link to help you find the orchard convenient for you.

Ida Bailey Allen was a famous food expert during the 1930’s and 40’s. She had a syndicated newspaper column and a radio program and also wrote many cookbooks. One was called “Ida Bailey Allen’s Money Saving Cookbook” and in it she answered questions from her fans. One was “Can a man out of a job afford pie?” The questioner didn’t ask if an unemployed person could afford steak. Or pickles. Or brownies. Or ham and cheese sandwiches. He asked about pie. Why pie?

Because when life is hard, a nice piece of homemade pie will make you feel better. I am not sure why. Perhaps it is because pie is not just a tasty dessert (or breakfast if you are lucky) – it stands for something. Mom. Home. Comfort. Security. Maybe even dignity. Even if you are out of a job, if you can still afford a piece of pie then you know it is not time to give up. Life is still worth living and you can still find the strength to do what needs to be done.

We are not in the Great Depression, but about 46 million Americans will be without health insurance some time this year* and lots more can barely afford the insurance plan they do have. I am hoping that our next crop of elected leaders will finally do something serious about that – but while we are waiting let’s keep making pies. Because it is still pretty affordable to make a homemade fresh apple pie. Because where there’s pie, there’s hope.

American Apple Pie (9 inch two crust pie)
I confess rhubarb custard and lemon meringue are my two favorite pies. But apple pie still takes the cake when it comes to popularity. Baking an apple pie is really not that hard. Take it step by step and pay attention to the details. Practice makes perfect. If the crust breaks, just patch it up or start over. Crust, like life, doesn’t always go according to plan. You will be so proud when you are done. What a nice thing to share with your family or maybe a friend who is out of a job. Keep America strong – bake a fresh apple pie today.

You will need a pie pan, rolling pin and a smooth flat surface for rolling. Also two large bowls, measuring cups and spoons, a fork and a pastry cutter or two knives. I like glass pie pans the best. I have a marble slab which is great for rolling pastry. But a clean countertop will work just fine.

If you want to hear a spirited debate, ask a few Grandmas to talk about the relative virtues of lard, butter or shortening for pie crust. When I have high quality home rendered lard I prefer that. If not, then butter is great. But I have made many pies with butter flavored Crisco and it is pretty darn good too.

2 cups unbleached flour (you could use some or all whole wheat pastry flour)
1 t. salt
2/3 cup cold lard, butter or shortening or a combination
4 to 6 T ice water
Mix dry ingredients. Cut in fat (with pastry cutter or two knives or even fingertips) until particles are the size of small peas. Sprinkle on water and mix with fork until dough holds together, Handle lightly. Form into two disks, one slightly larger than the other (larger is for the bottom) Chill about 30 minutes, well wrapped. Roll out larger piece first and place in pan for filling.

The very big decision to make here is what kind of apples. By all means use fresh Minnesota apples and buy them from a local orchard if you can. Paula Red is a good early pie apple. I also like Cortland and McIntosh, mixed. Go for big flavor. NEVER use Delicious apples for pie. They are not delicious, they are boring.
6 cups peeled sliced apples (about 6 large apples)
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour (A little more if apples are very juicy)
1 t. ground cinnamon
2 T butter
Mix all but butter together and pack into into shell, arranging to avoid large spaces. Dot with the butter. Cover with top crust. Seal and flute crust. Cut slits in crust. Cover edges of crust with foil to avoid over browning. Remove foil about 15 minutes before end of baking. Bake at 425 degrees for about 40 to 50 minutes.

* this number was accurate in 2008 when this column was written. It is also accurate for 2009 based on U.S. Census data


  1. prairie spy and haralson mixed are my favorites

  2. the magic ingredient I discovered last year for apple pie is diced crystallized ginger. Sweet and spicy, it soaks up some of the liquid and makes the pie taste amazing. The recipe suggesting it said 2T - I add more like 1/3 cup! Just sprinkle it in with the apples.