The Recipe: Un-American like apple pie

“I wanted to know where apple pie originated and when it was first introduced. I was a bit disappointed to learn that it wasn’t created by a sweet little grandmother in one of the 13 colonies.” Photo: Steve Russo

As someone who has worked in the meat industry, on and off, for nearly a decade, my first instinct has been to stay in my comfort zone and write an essay on grilled meats on Independence Day. It would have been a safe move and no one would be wiser. Lovely brick shredded chicken with lemon, fresh herbs and butter on the grill comes to mind, but I needed something that screamed America and had a fun story to tell. I was excitedly looking for the edible version of Uncle Sam, for his loud shout!

I called Oracle (Google), and hit the dock (keyboard). The apple pie kept popping up. But I don’t bake. It is very accurate and reminds me of science and I avoid it like taxing income. This will be the first pie I’ve ever crafted and baked on my own. As such, I’ve been cooking on this for several days and thought of some ways to tweak the traditional recipe. But, as a writer, I had to do my due diligence and do my homework about it. I wanted to know where apple pie originated and when it was first introduced. I was a little disappointed to learn that it wasn’t created by a sweet little grandmother in one of the 13 colonies.

My search ended when I read that the first mention of a beloved apple-like pie was in a book by English author Geoffrey Chaucer, circa 1381. I found an extract from one of Chaucer’s books listing the main ingredients of the primitive version. Like a crazy gastro-forensic pathologist, I’ve been translating words like “reyfons” and “perys” from Old English into Modern English. Once I figured out what I was actually reading, I knew I was about to do something. It is eerily similar to a mince pie, except that the filling is neither dry nor sugared. I thought I could improve on this very strange version of the famous dessert sometimes called “1381 apple pie”. The original recipe called for a “coffin” or “coffin” shell. Medieval inedible Tupperware would be the best description of this crust. To me, the crust is just as important as the pie filling. It’s just as crucial as that special hoagie roll is to Gino’s Cheese Slices.

So, at this point, I knew, as a bread stranger, I was over my head, but there was no turning back. This would either have ended well or would be “a dinner for the dogs” in the words of Chaucer’s contemporary, Chef Gordon Ramsay. I’m a meat guy and I stay on course when it comes to different cooking techniques, and I’m fine with that. That’s why, with all the recipes for pie crusts, I needed to hire an experienced baker who knows his way around the dough. I asked Lyn Mazio to show me the ropes and give me a Pie Crust 101 lesson. After sampling several fruit pies and cakes, I realized I was in good hands. You passed me the pancake pie recipe and I’ll pay it in advance by passing it on to you.

Here’s what you’ll need to make my version of 1381 apple pie.

Baked pie. Photo: Steve Russo

pie filling
(5) Granny Smith apples, peeled and cut into 8 slices
(1) Bartlett pear, peeled and cut into 8 slices
(15) prunes, halved
Half a cup of golden raisins
2 tablespoons of orange figs
cup chopped walnuts (optional)
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch crushed cardamom
pinch of ground spices
Half a teaspoon of sea salt
3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter

pie crust (enough for top and bottom crust)
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and frozen
Half a cup of cold ice water

whipped cream
10 ounces whipping cream
pinch ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon honey
sugar (to taste)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Add all ingredients to the mixing bowl. Whisk until stiff peaks form.

It’s recommended to use a food processor to mix your ingredients for a more consistent pie crust, but if you don’t have access to one, a good-fashioned hand-held dough mixer will work just fine. Mix the dry ingredients together first. Gradually add the frozen butter cubes and cold water, little by little. After all the butter cubes are evenly dispersed and coated with the dry ingredients, shape the mixture into (2) 5-inch discs. Chill for an hour. Roll the discs into husks large enough to make an 11-inch cast iron skillet. The crust should be no more than 1/8 inch thick. Butter the pan from the inside. Put a pie crust inside. Fill the crust with a mixture of filling ingredients. Place a second rolled pie crust over the surface of the fruit, crimp the edges of both crusts, and make holes in the top crust to vent. Sprinkle the top crust with sugar and bake at 365 degrees for about 1 hour and 20 minutes or until the pie crust is golden brown.

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