It has turned cold in the Northeast, a time to make the first stew of the year. Also to begin thinking of collecting bones for brewing and freezing a gallon or more of stock for treating winter colds and whatever else the world throws into our house. The first apples from upstate orchards have appeared in the market so there will be pie baking, too. A lot of them, in fact, because they are my personal sleeplessness remedy, a growing affliction during these trying days.
One (or two) to three (or four) A.M. are the life-long witching hours for me, hours where nothing good ever occurs for anybody. Mom insisted I was a lousy colicky baby with a pair of lungs that woke the neighbors on both sides of the house. A vivid imagination went on to produce childhood nightmares. Puberty brought a twitchy body that came alive no mater how exhausted I made myself during the day. Nothing changed in adulthood except babies and subsequent teenagers who provided a solid excuse to be up way pass a sensible bedtime.
Years and years passed, the cover of rambunctious children gradually blown away once they left, until there came a reckoning with the source of this restlessness. Now, well-medicated and therapized, I sleep better but not all the time. The always-has-been sane husband resorts to warm milk when he has his very, very infrequent bouts. My sister is a huge proponent for lavender baths and melatonin. A friend relies on Benadryl. I discovered the medicinal benefits of apple pie while writing a book. It’s in the way the softened apples melt into a buttery crust and forms a kind of batting around the mind and a stilling weight to the body that almost always quiets any lingering residue of wattage to disturb my rest.
Even if you don’t need a cure for insomnia or think this is all far-fetched, consider baking your own apple pie as a vote of confidence that America will come out of this period intact. Henry Ward Beecher, arguably the country’s most influential clergyman and reformist in the years before the Civil War, preached that our country must, like the best apple pie, “become a glorious unity in which sugar gives up its nature as sugar and butter ceases to be butter and each flavorsome spice gladly vanishes from its own full nature, that all of them by a common death, may rise into the new life of an apple pie…transformed [into] the ideal, refined, purified and by fire fixed in blissful perfection.”
One more directive: This recipe is mine. It should never be yours. And this is how it should be. As a nation formed of people fleeing or torn away from somewhere else, we’ve always hungered to use whatever remained of our old life in striving to form a new one for ourselves. I believe that apple pie is uniquely American because it provides the baker with an opportunity to enfold influences from many different lands. There are as many ways to make an apple pie as there are cooks in our country. Add a spice or different type of dough from another land and the results are always the same, a national treasure to savor.
I’ve decided to make a crumb pie, mainly because I faced the horror of having run out of enough butter and lard for double crust and had already risked running to the store once. I also had a stick of really fresh Saigon cinnamon found in our local Middle Eastern market.
I beg you, though, to consider using whatever spices pleases you most. First, dust them on a slice to test if they’re a delicious match. Once you decide, bake away for what you can rightly claim as your very own special apple pie.
Apple Crumb Pie
Single 9″ butter and lard crust (make sure the following ingredients should be well-chilled before you begin!)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 cup sugar
Juice of half a lemon
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, cut into 4 pieces
1/4 cup lard, cut or spooned into small pieces
3 to 4 tablespoons iced water
Put the flour and sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse a few times to combin. Remove the lid, sprinkle butter and lard over the dry ingredients, recover and pulse a few times until small lumps form. Still pulsing, begin to add the iced water, a little at a time, until it just begins to form a ball. Turn the dough out into a sheet of plastic wrap. As you wrap the dough in the plastic, form it into a disk. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Take out the dough and roll it across a lightly floured surface until it’s slightly larger than your pie pan. drape one end of the dough over the pin and gently lift it up, (don’t worry if you have to use a scraper to loosen it) then slip it into your pan and gently press it against the sides. Pinch the dough around the rim, trimming any excess.
Return to the refrigerator while you make the filling.
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup flour
1 stick butter
Mix together all the ingredients and rub between your fingers to form small and big crumbs.
8 or 9 large apples of different cooking varieties such as Jazz, Cortland, Honeycrips. Golden and Granny Smith (avoid Delicious apples), peeled, cored and thinly sliced
Juice of 1 large lemon
About 2 tablespoons sugar
Pich of both ground mace and nutmeg
Putting it all together:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Put the apple slices in a bowl and blend together. Taste a few to gauge how much sugar you’ll need to make them just short of sweet. Mix the slices with the lemon juice then add the amount of sugar you’ve decided on and spices.
Pour the apple mixture into the prepared pastry shell. Mound toward the center and dot with butter.
Evenly distribute the crumb mixture over the top. Mix up some more if you want a thicker crust.
Place the pie on a baking sheet and cook in the middle of the oven for 45 to 55 minutes.