Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Professor’s Apple Pie

An apple for the teacher? Sure. But how about an apple pie? I can just picture the look on my environmental biological-chemical processes (wait, what’s the name of the class? Ah, oh well) professor’s face when a nice, golden hot apple pie is waiting for him before class next week.

In the last three weeks I have been having a little “pie off” of my own. I kid you not – I have made a total of eight pies – 7 apple pies and 1 peach pie. I have dealt with apples and dough in varying states of freshness, coldness and sweetness and think I have found my winning combination, once again originating from my mom’s recipe box and the family apple tree.

Never have I felt so strongly the correlation between apple harvesting and the start of school, as this week found me dusting off my mechanical pencil and graphing calculator to return to school. All in all it is a very happy thing, though I imagine in a few short days away from the boys I will miss them terribly … or maybe not, as I am feeling totally fantastic about where they will be spending their days. The other thing I will miss of course is the “extra” time I had to dedicate to saving money in the kitchen. Now, like most folks, I will have less time and less money. So, I guess as a last hurrah of sorts I set a personal mission to put all my thrifty muscle into enjoying and preserving as many “free” apples as possible.

The apples mostly found themselves eaten, pureed into applesauce (Lane’s first food) and into apple pies for immediate consumption and for the freezer (!!). My inner homesteader is beaming with the knowledge that our freezer has three beautiful apple pies just waiting for February (or some other winter month in need of a good occasion) when I can savor the “labor” of my last weeks of summer.

When you make the pie dough there will, of course, be extra, which is wonderful rolled out, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar and baked at 450 degrees for approximately 10 minutes. Let it cool as long as people can wait, then huddle around, break into pieces and enjoy. I like to think this is one of the kitchen treats my kids will love the most.

And don’t forget the vanilla ice cream. Can you imagine the professor’s expression if some yummy ice cream found its way onto his desk as well? Priceless.

Grandma Margaret’s Pie Crust

This recipe comes from my dad’s mom, a fantastic Nebraskan cook. I tried two different piecrust recipes and this one won out due to its ease to make, workability and flavor. It doesn’t have the typical crazy flakiness of a shortening crust … but you get the comfort of having a healthier crust and I preferred the sturdier crust to the other which I found tender but kinda tasteless. I like to mix the dry ingredients and cut in the butter in a food processor, then transfer to a bowl to add the wet ingredients and bring together with my hands into two discs (one for top and one for bottom). The recipe below is reproduced in its beautiful straightforward simplicity. I always forget about the ice water until right before the recipe – so do that first!

Servings: 1 pie, 8-12 slices (depending on the slicer)
Cost: ~ $2/pie (if the apples are free!)
Time: 1+ hour prep, 1+ hour cook

2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup butter

1 egg, beaten
1 Tbs apple cider vinegar
Ice water, if necessary

(Make ice water.) Sift flour and salt together. Cut in butter. Toss in egg and vinegar lightly with fork. Start to gently work dough with hands to form discs, add ice water if necessary to bring dough together.

Apple Filling

This recipe comes from the 2007 Santa Cruz County Fair Best of Show award winner. So yeah, it seemed like a good place to start. While you are peeling and prepping the apples keep them in a bowl of cool salty water to prevent them from browning (another tip from Grandma).

8+ cups apples peeled, cored and sliced (approximately 12 small/med apples or 8 large)

1 ½ cups raw sugar
1/3 cup flour
1 tsp cinnamon

1 Tbs butter
3 Tbs brown sugar

1 Tbs milk
white sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a pie plate with half the crust rolled thin. Spread half of apples atop bottom crust. Combine sugar, flour and cinnamon and sprinkle half of dry mixture over apples. Place remaining apples in crust and sprinkle remaining dry mixture on top. Dot with butter and sprinkle brown sugar on top. Cover with top crust and pinch to seal. Brush top lightly with milk and dust with sugar. Place pie in oven with foil or baking sheet below to catch drippings. Bake for 15 minutes at 425, then lower heat to 350 and bake an additional 45-50 minutes. Cool (just a bit) and enjoy.

Notes on freezing:
This is my first time freezing pies, so I will have to report back in February about the results. Based on my web research I; froze pies unbaked; and froze the pies in pie plates lined with parchment paper (which will help me remove the pies from the plates for storage). The common recommendation was to use tapioca as a thickener, but I didn’t have tapioca, so instead stuck with the winning recipe that uses flour as a thickener, though this could make the pies “runny”. We shall see.

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