As children we often ate Mrs. Smith's brand frozen apple pie which, if memory serves, was fairly good. Once in a while we would make an apple pie from scratch. Apples are plentiful in the fall and winter, which make apple pies ideal for Thanksgiving and Christmas. They are certainly more attractive than the more traditional Thanksgiving options - plain pecan pie and the downright ugly pumpkin pie. On the other hand, they do not require the advance planning necessary for fruitcake or the ridiculous labor demanded by the Bûche de Noël.
Apple pies have been popular in Europe for centuries. This English recipe dates to 1381 and calls for a mixture of apples, figs, pears, raisins, spices and saffron in a pastry casing. Apple pies only became common in the United States in the eighteenth century, and so the saying "as American as apple pie" is likely to be a patriotic myth manufactured to sell more apples.
I made this pie from apples that grew on Norham Gardens, a leafy street in North Oxford. A gardener had placed them in a crate for passersby to take away, and I never refuse natural (and free) ingredients.
2 pie crusts
1 lemon, all zest and juice
12 apples, peeled and cored
3/4 cup granulated or caster sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
pinch of cloves
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 egg (optional)
1. Place lemon zest and juice into a large bowl.
2. Peel and core the apples (cut lengthwise into eight wedges). Any kind of apple will do, but using a mixture is a good idea. Tart Granny Smith apples are ideal for pie. Coring can take a long time, so if you bake a lot invest in an apple corer. Cut wedges into slices about 1/4 inch thick and place into a large bowl, coating with lemon juice to prevent discoloration.
3. Preheat oven to 425F. Add the sugar, spices and flour and mix well.
4. Remove pie crusts from the fridge. Allow to warm slightly or they will crack during preparation. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one pie crust until it is 10-11 inches in diameter. Draping it over the rolling pin, transfer to a 9-inch pie dish.
5. Place apple mixture in the crust. Apples will reduce in volume during baking so do not worry if they appear to be piled very high. Dot with butter.
6. Roll out the other pie crust to between 11-12 inches and place on top of the pie. Trim top or bottom crust if necessary. Tuck edges under the bottom crust and crimp and flute to seal. This will prevent the juices from bubbling through during baking. Cut several 1-inch slits into the top of the pie to allow steam to escape.
7. If you have any extra scraps of dough, shape them into leaves. Score the pastry to create the leaf stem and vein. You can also create other shapes such as animals or letters. Beat the egg in a small bowl and brush it over the pie. The egg wash will impart a rich brown color during baking.
8. Place pie on a baking sheet to catch any juices and to make it easier to remove from the oven. Bake at 425F for 25 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350F and bake for another 25 minutes. Check the pie regularly to make sure it is not burning. If the top crust begins to brown too quickly, cover with aluminum foil.
9. Allow the pie to cool before serving with ice cream, whipped cream or custard. It can also be served with Cheshire or Cheddar cheese.