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October 2010
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Finally time for Apple Pie--An illustrated recipe

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Our tree with ripe apples, which is usually in Mid-October.

However, the apples were nearly a month late to ripen this year. I was wondering if we'd ever have them for eating out of hand, chopping into yogurt with walnuts, making Waldorf salad, and making pies. But they are finally sweet enough. I decided to photograph the entire process of turning fresh apples into a pie:

Start by peeling and cutting up 6 medium-sized apples. (Of course if they are from your tree, they may be different sizes, so you may have to do more or maybe fewer.) I have tried not peeling them, but our particular apple has a kind of tough peel, so I am back to peeling. I quarter them, then peel the quarters. I cut into the inward side of each peeled quarter-apple in a broad V, to remove the core. Then I slice the quarters crosswise, or, if they are wide, I may cut each quarter in half before I make the final cuts. To help remember how many apples I have prepared, I set the part of the core with the stem attached aside for each--one stem = 1 apple.

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Here you can see the little row of core sections with stems attached, the bowl for peels and cores, and the bowl of finished, chopped apple.

I used the 1953 Joy of Cooking when I first made apple pie. It's recipe suggests mixing the apples with 1/2 -2/3 cups brown sugar, 1 to 1 1/2 Tablespoons of cornstarch, and (optionally) 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and/or 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg. Joy of Cooking authors, writing at a time when many more people were cooking from their own tree, and more kinds of apples were being sold. They are clear that apples vary. "Only very tart apples need the larger amount of sugar, only very juicy apples require the larger amount of cornstarch." "If the apples lack flavor, sprinkle them with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice."

In my case, I usually add the lower amount of sugar, the cinnamon, extra cornstarch (maybe 2 Tablespoons), and a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice, since my apples are sweet, juicy, and don't have any acid tang to add to their flavor. In any case, add everything you are going to add, toss well, and set apples aside.

I think making pie crust requires a very personal interaction of cook and recipe. I tried several recipes before I found the one that makes good crust for me, and offer you the one I chose, but you may find another is better for you.

My father's mother used lard, baking several pies at a time for her large family. Lard didn't appeal to me, but her crust was quite delicious. I used to use butter. Now I use Smart Balance Buttery Sticks, a vegan, no trans fats margarine, and it works fine. The recipe I use is 1 1/4 cups unbleached white flour, 1 stick of the margarine, and a few tablespoons of icy water (2? 3? something like that).

The first step is to cut up the margarine and put it in a bowl with the flour.

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There's the flour with the cold margarine cut up in it. Next to it is a quarter cup, with some water and an icecube or two. And behind that is 1/2 of the paper from a large brown paper grocery bag, laid out for a surface on which to roll the crust, and the rolling pin, at ready.

Next, I crumble the margarine into the flour, using my thumbs and fingers to rub the two materials together.There's nothing tricky at this point, as long as you do it while the margarine is still relatively cold.

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When the mixture looks like coarse meal, it is time to add the cold water. I pour a little in and begin immediately to try to form a ball of dough. This is the sort of tricky part, because you don't want to actually work the dough. No kneading in this recipe, or the gluten will begin to develop and the crust will be tough. Just push the stuff together, getting it all moist until it will form a ball that isn't sticky but will clean the bowl if you dab it on the unattached pieces.If you run out of water, add a tad more to the cup with the ice and pour from it, a bit at a time.. Then smear some flour on the working surface, and set the ball on it.

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OK, now the fun begins. Roll the crust, gently at first, then more firmly as you begin to develop the round think shape you need. Roll from one direction and then another. Change directions if the shape isn't round enough. Make it pretty thin and rather bigger than your pie pan, which should be standing at ready on the table by now.

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If your dough has the right amount of water in it, it won't stick too much, but be ready to add a little more flour to the surface, or even lift a corner of the dough after you begin to roll it (using a knife to lift it if needs be) and add more flour. Also, if the dough is correct, you can mend it where it tears or cracks just by placing one piece over another and rolling it, or by moistening both sides with a little water and then rolling.But hopefully, you will have no problems with either, or only minimal ones.

When you get a nice large round, fold it in half, lift it carefully, and place it in one half of the pie pan. This one is a Corningware pan. It looks small, because the sides are vertical instead of at an angle like most pie pans, but it holds the same amount of stuff. I know because I filled it and a regular pan with water, and they held the same amount.

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Now carefully lift the folded over half and ease it into the pan. You have to kind of push a little from near the edge inward to get the crust to fall into the pan without tearing. That is, don't try to stretch it, as that won't work. Next you will make the crimped edges that make the pie pretty. You fold the crust under about 1/2 to 3/4 inch above the edge of the pan, and use your fingers and thumbs to make the fluting pattern. Any extra crust, extending below the crimps, on the outside of the pan, cut off with a knife. At any low places, where there isn't enough dough to make the crimp, use water to glue on more rolled dough from the pieces you cut off elseshere, and use that to make the fluted edge. (The crimp, or flute, is made to the measure of your fingers, a very individual form, unlike that of a machine crimped crust.)

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Here I'm making the fluted edge. You can see that there will be some extra crust to cut off in this part of the edge.

I like to cover my pie with a Danish apple pie topping. I put any extra bits of trimmed off crust into a bowl and add a little brown sugar (1/3 cup?) some margarine cut into bits (3 Tablespoons), a little flour (2-3 tablespoons?) and maybe 3/4 teaspoon of cinnamon. This recipe isn't exact, because it depends on how much crust dough was left over to use and how much topping you want on the pie. I crumble the ingredients all together with my thumbs and fingers.

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I put the prepared apples into the crust and then crumble the topping evenly over the apples.

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In baking the pie, I follow the recipe in my old edition of Joy of Cooking. First bake the pie at 450 degrees F for 10 minutes, or a little bit longer, to let the crust brown a little bit. (If you are going to let it go for longer than 10 minutes, keep a close watch on it.) Then turn the oven to 350 and bake until done, from 3/4 to 1 hour total. To tell if it is done, you can insert a knife in an apple to see if there is any resistance .

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Ta dah! The finished pie. Hope yours turns out to be delicioius! Happy Thanksgiving!

Another Year in the Life of An Apple Tree

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Our apples at their best.

In the ongoing saga of our apple tree, a tree of unknown variety but good fruit and usually good production, another harvest is past. This year we finally got rid of the woolly apple aphids, after two years of spraying the insects with rubbing alcohol (right out of the bottle) weekly and 2 commercial canola oil sprays each winter on the dormant branches. Because the insects spend part of their time in the soil, we also used the canola oil pesticide as a soil drench twice each winter, watering before and after we sprinkled it on the soil surface (an off-label use the idea for which  I got from reading research reports about the pest in the East ).

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Woolly apple aphids make huge galls where they suck sap from the branches, as they have done here on this pruning cut (not on our tree, thank goodness!). They are reddish aphids, but are covered with a white waxy fluff.

 We also think it helped that we discovered the trunk had been buried a foot or so deep yea all these years, since before we bought the house, and unburied it. A buried lower trunk is really bad news for any tree.

But because we were paying so much attention to the woolly apple aphids, we forgot to spray sulfur to prevent scab, the disease that makes surface blemishes on the apples. We were also lulled by the dry early spring into thinking that scab wouldn’t be a problem this year. The early-setting fruit did fine—no scab. Then the spring turned wet, and the later-setting fruit was attacked by scab. (Our tree is borderline for getting enough winter chill, so sometimes it blooms over a long period.) Some of the later forming fruit was so affected that it was stunted and malformed.

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Some of our apples with scab disease. Note damage to leaves from the disease as well.

However, overall the tree became so vigorous (when liberated from the extra foot of soil and freed of the stem and root sucking of the woolly apple aphids) that we wanted to be sure to give it a summer pruning to curb its excess growth. But the summer was so cold and foggy that the tree seemed always to be wet. So we put it off, hoping for a dry day. That day came, Lisa pruned the tree, and boom, we had a heat spell. So some of the apples developed sunburn on their southeast sides—big round black sunken blotches.

 Then came October 15th, the usual ripening date, but most of the fruit was clearly not ripe. it was still green under the red streaks, very hard, and had its flat, starchy, unripe flavor. Now, in mid-November, it is finally getting ripe. Many of the fruits do have some scab, and a few (not as many as it once seemed) have the sunburn, which will prevent them from keeping well. But overall, there is more than we can eat, as usual, so it’s off to the Free Farm Stand (after our friends and neighbors have been given as many as they can use). And off to bake pies. I photographed the making of an apple pie and plan to put the photos, with recipe, on this blog in a day or two.