Without a doubt, apple pie ranks among the top choices of best comfort food. Like the other recipes I’ve shared here (biscuits, cornbread), every family has their own version, compliments of mom or grandma, and their own opinion of exactly how authentic apple pie should taste. This humble, all-American classic, often the cornerstone of Sunday dinners, picnics, and church-hosted bake sales, is also the dessert of choice that Collie Mercer sends with her youngest child, John, as he leaves the family farm to go live with his Aunt Prudence in Baltimore.
Collie’s decision to send the pie with John is probably based on the fact that apples are a readily available fruit, and her hands could make the pie from memory. Or perhaps her choice is slightly more self-serving as she silently prays the taste of the pie that John grew up with will prompt a change of heart and return her youngest child to her.
Whatever Collie’s motivation, the following recipe is the one I had in mind for her to bake during that melancholy June in 1920. I hope you enjoy it as much as my family does and as much as John did on the day he began a new chapter in his life.
Collie Mercer’s Apple Pie
5–6 Granny Smith apples
2 c flour plus 2 T for thickening
1 t salt
1 c cold, unsalted butter, cut into dices
¼ – ½ c ice water
½ c sugar, I use raw
1 t vanilla
1 ½ t cinnamon
4 T butter for dotting
Cinnamon or sugar for dusting
Preheat your over to 425 degrees.
Mix the two cups of flour with the salt. Toss in the cold butter and cut it into the flour/salt mixture with a pastry blender or two knives until it resembles coarse meal. Slowly work enough ice water into the dry ingredients until you can form a ball of dough, making sure it’s not too wet or too dry. Work quickly by hand to ensure that all the dry ingredients are mixed in thoroughly. Be careful not to overwork the dough or the butter will become warm and the dough will be tough. Wrap the ball of dough in plastic and place in the refrigerator for twenty minutes.
Peel and slice the Granny Smith apples to approximately ¼ inch slices. (They are an extremely firm apple and any thicker will require sautéing prior to being placed in the crust or they may not cook well during the baking process.) Toss the apples with the sugar, cinnamon, a couple of hearty dashes of allspice, vanilla, and the two tablespoons of flour. Stir to coat the apples thoroughly and set aside.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and cut into two pieces. One piece should be slightly bigger than the other to serve as a top crust. Working on a lightly floured surface, use a rolling pin to roll out the dough enough to cover the bottom and up the sides of an eight-inch pie plate. The bottom crust can hang over the edge of the pie plate just a little. Fill the bottom crust with the seasoned apple mixture and place four tablespoon slices of butter on top of the apples. Roll the top crust larger than the diameter of the pie plate and place over the apples. Tuck the edges of the top crust beneath the edges of the bottom crust and crimp to seal. I prefer pressing with the floured tines of a fork to create an old-fashioned look.
Cut several vents in the top crust with a small, sharp paring knife to allow steam to escape. Brush the top crust with your choice of wash. I prefer a milk wash, but egg white thinned with water is also a good choice. Sprinkle liberally with cinnamon or sugar. Bake for 30 minutes. Check on the brownness of the crust and bake in five minute increments until a golden color has been achieved but no more than 45 minutes total.
Remove the pie from the oven and let stand for fifteen minutes. Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream.