I had never really baked an apple pie from scratch so this time, so I hit the cookbooks and the Internet to find the perfect recipe. I took a few ideas from them, and made my own list of ingredients. My cousins bravely volunteered to be guinea pigs for the bold experiment.
I got lazy with the crust and used a mix. When I went to work, I realized that I was missing one key component, a rolling pin! It scared me for a bit, until I improvised with a wine bottle. It did not work as well as a rolling pin, and my top crust was a bit patch-work-looking, but the end result was the same.
The key ingredient for the filling was of course apples! Like all produce, I am very choosy about the apples I use. Take your time to pick out the best apples possible. I used Granny Smiths for this. Granny Smiths are none too sweet, and remain firm during baking. They are the traditional pie apple. I used about six, medium sized apples for the pie, sliced thin. Some people peel their apples, but I left the skins on, for a different sort of texture in the treat. As I got no complaints from the families Melrose, Higgins and Meriwether, I don’t think it was a wrong decision at all. After washing and slicing, I soaked the apples for a half hour in some dry sherry, mixing well and dusting with a few dashes of ginger, just to coat all the fruit, and add an interesting new flavor.
Apples were not the only fruit in my pie. I also added a quarter cup of golden raisins. Raisins add a little more of a sweet surprise, and take flavor well. To get the raisins prepared, I boiled them in enough sherry to cover them completely, and added maybe a half teaspoon of ground cinnamon. Boil the raisins until they are plump, and not completely shriveled.
The seasoning for the apples was where I departed from tradition. Instead of using white sugar, I used slightly less than a full cup of unpacked, light brown sugar. Brown sugar adds the sweetness for the pie, and a deeper flavor. Whenever possible I like to substitute brown sugar for white, as it is much more natural.
To the sugar, I added two tablespoons of flour, a half teaspoon of apple pie’s best friend, cinnamon and an eighth-teaspoon of allspice. If you like nutmeg, add an eighth teaspoon, but what I did, for a spicy punch, was just two pinches, between the thumb and forefinger, of mace. That gave it just the right amount of extra fun and Christmas kick. Blend all the seasoning very well.
I took the raisins and drained them well, adding them to the apples, which I also drained before mixing with the seasonings. Coat all the apples well while tossing them thoroughly.
Place the bottom crust in a nine-inch pie pan and press into the corners. Pour all the apples in and spread evenly. You may need more apples if they are small, or if they are large and you have too many, take a few out and bake separately for a nice side dish to ham or roast pork. Cover with the top crust and crimp the sides of the pie with a fork or spoon. Poke several holes in the top of the pastry to allow steam to escape. Remember what happens to baked potatoes if you don’t poke a few holes in the skins?
Cover the edges of the pie with aluminum foil to prevent burning, and bake for 25 minutes in an oven preheated to 375 degrees. After 25 minutes, remove the foil and bake for another half hour. During the final 10 minutes, brush the crust with melted cinnamon butter for an extra treat. Keep an eye on the pie, and remove it when it is golden brown.
I had to let my pie cool slightly, to transport to Nashville, though liberal foil wrapping guaranteed a warm pie when I arrived. I highly suggest serving warm, either a la mode, or microwave for 30 seconds with a few slices of sharp cheddar cheese on top.
My cousin Barbara hosted the dinner, collaborating with her sister Jane with baked ham, scalloped potatoes, grits, baked apples and beans. It was the nicest Christmas I have had away from home, and I give my thanks for the best extended family in the world. After our dinner in the middle of the afternoon, we moved to dessert, slicing the pie with a generous hand for all who wanted. The verdict: a success! I have to say, it was a wonderful Christmas, and a good time was had by all. Good eating!