Apple and other pies

From Margaret Christie, CISA Special Projects Director.

In my family, growing up, we liked sweet and gooey desserts more than fruity ones. At Thanksgiving, we ate pecan pie with chocolate chips, and pumpkin pie from a can. But these days, in my family, apple pie is the top of the heap. My husband Nicholas loves apple pie, especially the next morning for breakfast. In the fall I bet we average an apple pie a week.

Sitting down to write about pie-making, I realized that we’re very well set up for pie production. Twenty years ago, Nicholas found a slab of marble at the Williamsburg transfer station. We held on to it for a long time before we figured out how to use it, but now it’s a part of our kitchen countertop. Stone makes a very nice surface for rolling out pie crust, but I’ve made crust in lots of places with good success, even if the surface is uneven and the only rolling option is a wine bottle. Luckily, if the crust isn’t perfect, you can patch it together with pieces of dough, and if it tastes good, no one will care. I make crust with lard and butter, but before we raised pigs, I just used butter—and still do if any of the eaters objects to lard. Usually, I use a combination of local whole wheat pastry flour and white flour in the crust.  I like a little sugar, a couple of teaspoons, in the crust for a sweet pie.

If you remember to make an extra crust’s worth of dough and put it in the freezer when you make a pie, it’s easy to produce a pie almost any night of the week, if you just remember to take the dough out of the freezer when you get home from work. Sometimes, for apple pie, I use a regular crust on the bottom and streusel—a mix of butter, brown sugar, and oats—on the top.

We buy our apples from Quonquont Farm, Clarkdale Fruit Farms, and Apex Orchard, depending on where our travels take us. For pie, though, I’m partial to Clarkdale’s “pie mix” bags. The mix of apples makes a great pie, and it helps me resist the temptation to buy six different bags of apples every time I’m in there, just so I can taste all of the many varieties they grow.

Our other apple-pie labor saving device is a hand turn corer-peeler-slicer device. I bought this tool from Wilson’s in Greenfield because it makes it easy to cut up lots and lots of apples for drying, but it turns out we use it all the time for pie. It’s not the kind of tool that takes longer to clean than to do the job, so it’s worth pulling out for a single pie. We mix in a little bit of sugar and cinnamon, maybe some nutmeg, and pile the apples up high in the pie shell, because they shrink while they are cooking.

And have I given up pumpkin and pecan pies at Thanksgiving? No, I have not. Pumpkin pie is still my favorite, and the one I like for breakfast. I grow a pumpkin variety called “winter luxury” for pies, and I think they live up to their name. And at Thanksgiving, I like a pecan pie. I make it now with my own eggs and maple syrup—no corn syrup!—so its local credentials aren’t too bad, even with those southern pecans in there. And it is good. To me, part of what Thanksgiving is about is bounty, and I like that spread of pies at the end of the meal.