09 Sep Apple Pie

Last night, Jill and I made our first apple pie of the season. I bought a big bag – thirty pounds – of mixed apples at the farmers’ market yesterday morning: jonogolds, ginger golds, granny smiths, galas, McIntosh, winesaps, and jonathans. Jill does the crust, I do the filling. She’s been making pies since she was a teenager – compelled, she says, by her mother’s terrible cooking. I’ve been making pies since college, first following my grandmother’s recipe for pan-fried apple turnovers.

When we’re feeling especially sinful, Jill and I will eat only a plate of salad for dinner, then finish with an entire apple pie. On occasion, I myself will eat an entire pie in a single sitting. Sometimes we make extra crust, sprinkling it with sugar and cinnamon before baking. This was something my grandmothers used to do. Both grandmothers were country cooks. They baked with butter and lard and never served a meal without a homemade dessert.

Apples are a near-perfect food, I’ve decided. They can quench a thirst and fill a stomach; they travel well and last long. They come in an astounding variety – 7,500 – and have been in the human diet since the time of cave-dwellers. But they are not native to the Americas (with the exception of crab apples). The Pilgrims brought the first apple seeds over. And it took a long while for the trees to flourish; in fact, it took the introduction of honey bees (the Indians called these “white men’s flies”) to make the orchards healthy.

Years ago, I was stranded at a small regional airport and found myself nearly dizzy from hunger. There happen to be one vending machine in the waiting area. Among its offerings was a large red apple. I’d never seen a vending machine that sold whole food like that. I deposited my coins, got the apple, and was amazed, nearly delirious with satisfaction, after the first, sweet, juice-spilling bite. Never had an apple tasted so good. Since that time, I’ve been fanatical about apples. I eat one or two, and sometimes three, every day. I seek out unusual varieties, like Baldwins, Priscillas, Daveys, and Bailey Sweets. Freida, our basset hound, is similarly enthusiastic about the fruit. They are her favorite food. She gets at a core a day and sometimes an entire apple. Here’s a link to a YouTube clip of Frieda eating an apple: Frieda’s apple.

As trick-or-treaters, my friends and I hated getting apples instead of candy. What spoil-sport, ninny-loving, fun-crushing, goody-two-shoes household would dispense apples when everyone else was handing out Baby Ruths and Milky Ways and Pay Days and Sugar Daddies and min-boxes of Good-n-Plenty? But, then, if somebody was handing out caramel apples or candied apples, man oh man, word would race prairie-fire fast through the neighborhood and there’d be a run on that house and then you’d hear about it all night, how that house was handing out candied or caramel apples but now they’re gone. To hell with the rumors of razor blades hidden inside, it’s not every day you’d get caramel or candied apples. Even now, if I have the chance to buy a candied apple, I do it.

Apples are so readily available, and travel so well, it seems a waste to eat those rubbery, barely digestible earlike bits of dried apple we find in the grocer’s bulk foods bins. Why bother? Actually, I confess that well after apple season – in late spring – the pickings aren’t so good on the apple shelf. Either we get apples that have been warehoused for months and taste it or we get the guilty pleasures from New Zealand and Chile. Guilty pleasure because, in buying these imports, we’re wasting too much fuel and expelling too much carbon. No apple, no matter how fresh, is worth the cost.

Sometimes I like nothing more than to stand among the piled-high apple tables at the farmers’ market and steep in the punky-sweet scent of apples. By the season’s end, I will have bought bushels and Jill and I will have baked apple betties, apple cobblers, apple sauce, apple strudels, apple dumplings, apple turnovers, apple cakes, apple muffins, and, of course, apple pies. God love an apple.