We finally turned the heat on yesterday. There was snow and it was a struggle, since so far we’ve been doing well with slippers and puff vests. It’s not that we’re cheap, it’s just, well, masochism is so in this season.
But warmth is nice. From me, warmth elicits all my fuzzy tendencies, like doing other people’s dishes, talking for a long time on the telephone, and baking pie.
So I spent the day making pie (and watching Netflix and sending emails and packing for vacation). After Thanksgiving, my mother sent me back to New York with a bag of apples grown in Adams County in South Central Pennsylvania. Our traditional Thanksgiving pie is always made from these apples, which are harvested in the fall and sold at orchard stands lining the hilly back roads. My apple pie recipe is really my mother’s, and what makes it so good is based largely on those fresh, Adams County apples. And a lot of brown sugar and butter. The pie is requested at most family gatherings, and for a long time, whenever she traveled back home, she flew with an apple pie in her carryon.
This pie has truly traveled the world. After my study abroad semester in Australia, two friends and I went to New Zealand to farm. Our second night in Christchurch happened to be Thanksgiving and this was the first time any of us hadn’t been with our family for the holiday. So we found a grocery store and bought a rotisserie chicken, a few potatoes, a packet of powdered gravy, a bag of salad, biscuit mix, a bottle of red, and a few apples. Back at the hostel, as Emma and Dan boiled and mashed potatoes, prepared biscuits and gravy, I made an apple pie. We sat at a small table with our improvised feast and gave thanks. And then, when we were done with dinner, we sliced up the apple pie and played cards late into the night. I think of that Thanksgiving often, almost every time I make apple pie, how we created a feast in a New Zealand hostel in the middle of summer, how we were family for each other. And then I think about how, the next day, we carried around the leftover pie mashed into a Ziploc bag and ate it with plastic forks at bus stops.
I make this pie at every opportunity, especially when the weather turns cold. Something about brown sugar and butter is comforting. The other night at dinner, I was telling some friends about the apples in my apartment and the pies I had to make before I left on vacation. Someone joked, “Well you can make a pie for us.” So I did – we left the restaurant, sliced apples, made crumble and crust, and while the pie baked, sang Christmas carols by a still-undecorated tree. An hour from start to finish, and we sat around the table for hot apple pie with ice cream. “Cool party trick.”
Since, I’ve baked three more pies. Two of them my roommates and I demolished and the third is for a friend I’m meeting in Las Vegas. Incidentally, she’s one of the friends from my New Zealand Thanksgiving. And I think, this is what it’s like, on my way to see family, schlepping along food, my symbol of love. And I feel a little like my mom, sitting in the plane, an apple pie in my carryon.
Makes two pies – trust me, you’ll want to make two.
For the crust:
2 c flour
2/3 c vegetable oil
1/3 c milk
Pinch of salt
For the filling:
Approx. 9 apples; preferably from an orchard, but otherwise store-bought baking apples are fine; use a variety
Plenty of sugar
Splash of rum or vodka
For the crumble:
2 sticks butter
approx. ¾ c brown sugar
approx. ¾ c flour
Mix crust ingredients with a spoon until it starts to come together. Roll the dough between your hands until smooth ball forms. It should lightly glisten and feel a little wetter than normal pastry crust. Separate into halves and press evenly into pie dishes.
Peel, core, and thinly slice apples. Douse liberally with cinnamon and sugar – I wish I had an exact measurement for you, but all I can say is, add “enough.” My conservative guess would be ¾ cups of sugar. The apples should be coated with the cinnamon-sugar mixture. The best is to eat an apple slice and taste for sweetness. Don’t forget that there will be sugar in the crumble. Add a splash of the liquor; mix. Pour filling into pie dishes.
To make the crumble: Blend butter, sugar, and flour until a coarse crumble forms. Again, the measurements are not exact. Best is to taste a butter crumb and to make sure you add equal parts brown sugar and flour, however much you decide to add. Distribute crumble on pies. Bake in a 425˚ F oven for 30 minutes or until crumble is lightly browned and filling bubbles.