The Apple pie has been so completely adopted by America that many people think of it as native to this land. So ingrained is it in America’s image of itself that even the mere mention of its name conjures up images of baseball and bald eagles. Shocking as it may be to our Patriots, it would seem upon closer inspection that both apples and the pies we make from them originally came from Europe.
Little did I know when first poking into the surprisingly lengthy relationship between America and apple pie how interesting I would find it. I do not dare to assume that it is every man’s fascination so I have condensed my readings significantly, mentioning only what I thought was most amusing and logging away the rest with my ever growing stockpile of uninteresting but none-the-less relentlessly employed conversation starters.
Like so many other dishes we love here in the U.S., the apple pie’s origin can be traced back to ye old England. The first written recipe dates back to an English Cookbook published in 1381 in which it was referred to as a “Tartys in Applis”.
By the time the early 1500’s rolled around, apple pies and tarts could be found everywhere although in a form we wouldn’t recognize today. These pies were not encased in the buttery flaky crusts we all enjoy but were instead put into an inedible amalgam of flour and water. Several inches thick, these “coffyns” as they were called (appetizing, no?) were made to withstand several hours of baking. Instead of being an element of the recipe these pastry caskets became more of a baking dish/mode of transportation for whatever was cooked inside.
Fast forward a few centuries to a man by the name of John Chapman, or “Johnny Appleseed” as he is more commonly referred to. Appleseed features prominently in the steady stream of inaccurate American folklore that perpetuates the apple = America axiom. Mr. Appleseed is credited with traveling all across the face of young America on foot, planting apple trees and befriending small woodland animals. It would seem however that John Chapman was actually a smart and calculating businessman whose orchards were not the random plantings of some drifting idiot but were cultivated with the express purpose of bringing Chapman financial gain. He would return years later to land that had considerably increased in value due to his orchards and sell that land at a tremendous profit. It is widely known that his apples were not of the munching variety but were in fact mostly crabapples. Crabapples you say? Yes, crabapples, the practically inedible sour green lumps approximately the size of a baby’s fist. Much too small to pass themselves off as even a snack these apples were instead used by the settlers of the day to make into hard cider. Johnny Appleseed, brought the sweet gift of alcohol to the frontier, leaving in his wake happier if slightly unsteady pioneers.
Apple pie gained an even greater hold over America’s heart in 1902 when at the suggestion of an English writer that apple pie “only be eaten twice a week” the stout heart of one New York Times editor raised a cry of outrage in a widely published rebuttal to the unthinkable recommendation. His cry in the defense of pie gained such popularity that it was quoted and repeated unendingly. An especially gripping passage is as follows:
“Pie is…the secret of our strength as a nation and the foundation of our industrial supremacy. Pie is the American synonym of prosperity. Pie is the food of the heroic. No pie-eating people can be permanently vanquished.”
American journalists struck another blow for pie during World War II. Young soldiers when asked why they were willing to risk their lives in war were reported to have said: “for mom and apple pie”. And so the reigning symbol of American patriotism established itself as the apple pie, though it would seem to merely be American by association.
“It is as meaningless to say something is ‘as American as apple pie’ as it is to assert proudly that a Swedish or Irish grandfather who emigrated to Minnesota was a ‘first American.’ Both the pie and the parent sprang from other cultures, and neither got here before the Indian.”
Classic American Apple Pie
1 Buttery Flaky Pie Dough recipe
1 ½ pounds Granny Smith Apples (about 3 medium)
2 pounds McIntosh Apples (about 4 large)
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
1 cup + 1 Tablespoon sugar
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ ground teaspoon salt
¼ ground teaspoon nutmeg
¼ ground teaspoon cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon ground allspice
1 egg white beaten
-It is advisable to make the crust of almost any pie before moving on to the filling or heaven forbid the topping if there is one. This allows for the most efficient use of one’s time as the dough always needs a chance to chill before being rolled and heaved about your countertop on its way to becoming the crust of your pie.
Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat a rimmed baking sheet and oven to 500℉ (260℃).
Remove one piece of dough from the refrigerator and roll it out onto a lightly floured surface into a 12-inch disk and transfer to your pie plate. It’s easiest to do this by folding the dough into quarters and placing the point into the middle of the pan and unfolding. Like so:
First fold in half
Then again into quarters
Transfer to the pie plate, placing the point of the dough into the middle
Unfold in reverse
Allow the dough to overhang the rim of your pie pan and do not bother with trimming the excess at this point in time. Return the dough to the refrigerator. While the dough is chilling move on to the filling. I didn’t mean to rhyme just then but sometimes life is beautiful.
Peel, core, and cut your apples into ¼ inch slices. Add lemon juice and zest to the sliced apples and combine. Then add all but one tablespoon of the sugar, flour, salt, and spices. Toss with the apples and turn the whole heap into your chilled pie shell.
Roll out the second piece of dough to the same size and shape as the last and place over the filling. Trim the dough to ½ inch beyond your pie plate tucking the excess underneath itself so the folded edge is flush with the pan.
Flute the edges, I like to use a spoon to make a decorative border.
Brush with your beaten egg white sprinkling the reserved tablespoon of sugar over the entire thing.
Place the pie on the baking sheet and lower the temperature to 425℉ (218℃). Bake for 25 minutes. Rotate pie, reduce heat yet again to 375℉ (190℃) and bake an additional 30-35 minutes.
Remove your beautifully browned pie from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack or if you’re feeling nostalgic on the sill of an open window.
“I ate another apple pie and ice cream; that’s practically all I ate all the way across the country, I knew it was nutritious and it was delicious, of course.”
-Jack Kerouac, On the Road