Archive for November, 2010

REV UP YOUR KITCHENS, ladies and gentlemen We have now officially entered the year’s biggest apple pie-making zone: Thanksgiving week. These next few days are your last chance to experiment with a new apple pie or practice your favorite recipe one final time before you make your pièce de résistance this Thursday.

Make sure you make enough to have some left over for breakfast Friday morning, but remember a pie’s greatest strength and weakness: it must be eaten straight away. For tips about how to take your pie from crust to oven, view the accompanying video featuring Andrea Darrow, Green Mountain Orchards, Putney, Vermont.

McIntosh apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

McIntosh apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

“If you bake one apple pie a week, or two a month, that’s 25 or 50 pies you will make in the coming year. At the end of the year, I guarantee you’ll be the best apple pie maker on your block — and you’ll have more friends than you’ll know what to do with.”

— Ken Haedrich, author of Apple Pie Perfect (Harvard Common Press, 2002)

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AT THE EASTERN STATES EXPOSITION (“The Big E”) this September, we staffed our New England Apples booth for the entire 17-day fair, succeeding in selling bushels of five-inch apple pies, sometimes at the rate of 135 a day! As you may guess, we fielded a myriad of apple pie making-questions, especially on the apple varieties that produce the best results.

Imagine my excitement, then, when a self-proclaimed expert pie maker stopped by to “talk shop.” I was dough in his hands as he related his secret tips for a flaky pastry crust, a perfect mix of sweet and tart apples to use, and, most exciting of all, an answer to an all-consuming question of mine: What is your favorite apple pie?

He answered without hesitation and with the enthusiastic support of his entire extended family: “Blackberry-Apple Pie.” So, here goes, as best as I can remember it.

Blackberry-Apple Pie

1 2-crust pastry shell

2 c blackberries

1/4 c sugar

2 T fresh-squeezed lemon juice

*6 c New England apples, peeled, cored, and sliced

2-3 T cornstarch

2 T sugar

1 t cinnamon

pinch of nutmeg

In large bowl, mash together blackberries, sugar, and lemon juice. Add apples and toss. In small bowl, combine cornstarch, 2 T sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir this into fruit mixture. Assemble pie as usual and bake at 400º for 30 minutes; reduce temperature to 375º and continue baking for 40 more minutes or until pie juice bubbles thickly out the steam vents.

*His apple choices:  2 McIntosh, 2 Northern Spy, and 1 Baldwin. In addition to his, my favorites include: Jonathan, Macoun, Cortland, Rome, Gravenstein, Winesap, and, if you can find them, Rhode Island Greening.

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Empire apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Empire apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)




“The best pie apple is a matter of personal preference and a reflection of the quality of a given apple at a given time of year. And it’s a moving target. The Northern Spy apples in your neck of the woods might be super one year, the Jonathan apples a little better the following year. The Golden Delicious apples you find in your supermarket could be great one week, not so great a month from now.”

— Ken Haedrich, Apple Pie Perfect

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The mad peeler at work

NEARLY 20 YEARS AGO now, Cindy Keating of Southampton, Massachusetts, and three of her friends got together in Cindy’s kitchen for an afternoon of apple pie-making. They had a great time, the conversation and flour were flying. But the big hit was the corer and peeler Cindy had clamped onto her counter. It was so much fun to use that one of her friends refused to relinquish it, and just kept peeling apple after apple.

No matter. They ended up with four delicious apple pies by the end of the day, and an enduring memory.

Here’s Cindy’s recipe. She can’t recall where she found it, but has made it many times since. The sour cream, she says, coats the apples and suspends them in a delicious, custard-like filling.

Sour Cream Apple Pie

1 9” pie crust


2 c New England apples, peeled, cored, and sliced

2 T flour

½ c sugar

¼ t salt

1 c sour cream

1 egg, slightly beaten

1½ t vanilla


1/3 c flour

1/3 c sugar

½ t cinnamon

¼ c butter

Blend together with pastry knife or fork.

Place apples in pie shell. Combine flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl. Add sour cream, egg, and vanilla. Beat until smooth, and pour over apples. Bake at 425º for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350º and bake for 20 minutes more.

Increase temperature to 400º. Add topping to pie and bake for 10 minutes more.

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Cortland apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Cortland apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)




“Making a gorgeous, delicious apple pie is one of the easiest tricks in the home cook’s bag of kitchen skills. Loan me any 10-year-old for a couple of hours, and I’ll teach him to make an apple pie — not because I’m such a great teacher, but because there’s nothing to it: you mix a pastry, roll the pastry, prepare the filling, put it in the pie shell, and bake it. In one session, you can master 90 percent of what you need to know.”

— Ken Haedrich, Apple Pie Perfect

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WE’VE TOPPED THE CENTURY MARK! There are now photographs and descriptions of more than 100 apple varieties on the New England Apples website, newenglandapples.org. You’ll find a wealth of other information about apples and New England orchards, as well.

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Apple pie should be eaten “while it is yet florescent, white or creamy yellow, with the merest drip of candied juice along the edges (as if the flavor were so good to itself that its own lips watered!), of a mild and modest warmth, the sugar suggesting jelly, yet not jellied, the morsels of apple neither dissolved nor yet in original substance, but hanging as it were in a trance between the spirit and the flesh of applehood … then, O blessed man, favored by all the divinities! Eat, give thanks, and go forth, ‘in apple-pie order!'”

— Rev. Henry Ward Beecher

DO NOT be put off from making apple pie out of fear of a bad crust. While it takes some practice to make a truly great crust, chances are your audience for fresh apple pie will be forgiving of your early efforts to master the art, even if just as a flavorful way to hold the filling. Like most things, pastry making gets better with experience, so forge on!

Here are two different styles of pie crust. “Dense and Delicious Whole Wheat Oil Pastry Crust” is healthier but harder to roll out than “Rich Pie Crust,” which is why wax paper is recommended.

Andrea Darrow of Green Mountain Orchards in Putney, Vermont, further explains the basics of good dough making in the video below, “Making A Perfect Pie Crust.”

Rich Pie Crust

makes 1 crust

1-1/4 c flour (may be half whole wheat)

1/4 t salt

1/2 c butter, cold and cut up into small pieces

1/4 c ice-cold water (or 2 T water plus 1 egg yolk)

Dense and Delicious Whole Wheat Oil Pastry Crust

makes 2 crusts

2-1/2 c whole wheat flour

1 t salt

1/2 c vegetable oil

1/2 c ice-cold water or better, milk

Measure dry ingredients into a bowl. Combine oil and water/milk in a small bowl and pour all at once into the flour. Mix the dough, divide it in half, wrap two flattened balls in plastic wrap, then chill for about 10 minutes. Roll out either on a floured surface or between waxed paper.

“Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness.”

Jane Austen

Macoun apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Macoun apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Here are two good choices among the many outstanding pie apples:

Many people consider Macoun the best fresh-eating apple, but it is also outstanding in pies. Macouns are esteemed by apple connoisseurs for their crispy, juicy flesh and rich, complex flavors that hint of strawberry and spices. Macouns do not store well compared to many varieties, making them in great demand during harvest in mid-September.

Named after a Canadian pomologist, this variety is pronounced as if spelled “MacCowan.” It was developed in Canada in the early 1900s, the offspring of McIntosh and Jersey Black, an American heirloom apple once known as Black Apple due to its dark color.

Northern Spy apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Northern Spy apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Another popular choice for pies is the heirloom variety Northern Spy, a larger than average apple with a deep red skin with red striping. It has a strong, sweet flavor and crisp texture. Northern Spy are good for fresh eating, drying, and juice, as well as in pies.

The first seed of Northern Spy came from Salisbury, Connecticut around 1800, and it was first grown by H. Chapin of East Bloomfield, New York. Introduced commercially in 1840, it quickly became a success, especially in the Northeast and Canada. It is a mid-season apple; harvest typically begins in late September or early October.

“To a foreigner a Yankee is an American. To an American a Yankee is a Northerner. To a Northerner a Yankee is a New Englander. To a New Englander a Yankee is a Vermonter. To a Vermonter a Yankee is a person who eats apple pie for breakfast.”

—   Traditional

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WHAT IS the best pie apple? There are several schools of thought on this.

Some people have their absolute favorites, and will go the extra mile to obtain them. More than one baker dispatched their adult child on a pilgrimage to our booth in the Massachusetts Building at the Eastern States Exposition in September when word got out that we were in possession of some Red Gravensteins. These emissaries purchased a bagful of these hard-to-find heirloom apples to fashion into a pie made exclusively with them. Similarly, we know of several sage bakers who insist that there is no better pie apple than Northern Spy, another heirloom.

Then there is the mix-and-match strategy (one we favor), where you combine a few apples each of several varieties to produce a pie rich in texture (with varieties like Cortland or Honeycrisp) and flavor (such as McIntosh and Empire). Using this method, you can experiment until you find just the right blend of sweet and tart to please your palate. Texture, too, is subjective; some like a mushy pie, while others prefer that their fork meets some resistance.

Perhaps food writer Ken Haedrich put it best in his 2002 book Apple Pie Perfect (Harvard Common Press): “Don’t worry so much about variety. Just get to know your apples and start making pies. The fact is, I’ve met very few apples in my lifetime that I couldn’t make into a respectable pie.”

Apple pie production is in high gear at Lyman Orchards in Middlefield, Connecticut. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Apple pie production is in high gear at Lyman Orchards in Middlefield, Connecticut. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

However you approach it, we are now entering a peak period for pies heading into the holiday season. We’ll be presenting a different apple pie recipe for each of the next three weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, accompanied by videos featuring Andrea Darrow of Green Mountain Orchards in Putney, Vermont, who takes you step-by-step through her pie-making process. In Part 1 of the series, Andrea prepares apples for the pie filling. She makes hundreds of pies a year for the orchard’s farm stand, and she peels the apples by hand for every single one of them.

One of my sisters-in-law brought this pie to Thanksgiving dinner in 1983, and it has been a family favorite ever since. It calls for baking mix (aka Bisquick) in two places, but you can easily substitute this homemade version instead. Mix together:

1-1/2 c whole wheat flour

2-1/4 t baking powder

1/2 t salt

2 T butter

Impossible French Apple Pie

In a large bowl, combine and turn into greased deep-dish pie plate:

6 c sliced New England apples

1-1/4 t cinnamon

1/4 t nutmeg

In medium bowl, beat until smooth, and pour over apples:

1/2 c sugar

3/4 c milk

1/2 c baking mix

2 eggs

2 T softened butter

In medium bowl, mix streusel topping, and sprinkle over pie:

1 c baking mix

1/2 c chopped walnuts

1/3 c brown sugar

3 T butter

Bake at 325˚ for 1 hour.

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