In a beautifully written and handsomely illustrated book called Old Southern Apples, Creighton Lee Calhoun tells the story of what apples and apple trees have meant in Southern life over centuries, up until just a few generations ago. Though the book is out of print, it’s worth seeking out in used bookstores, libraries or from online sources, for its fine illustrations, history of Southern food and agricultural traditions, and details about heirloom apple varieties, some of which survive and some of which have disappeared from the landscape as farmland dwindled away. Rural families often had not one apple tree or two, but a whole orchard’s worth, coming ripe from August through November, and each variety of apple tree with its own purpose. Some made briskly sweet cider, some were suited for apple butter and apple sauce, some were for pies or drying for wintertime use, and a few were for the least important purpose, eating out of hand. Mr. Calhoun lives here in Piedmont North Carolina, and I had the pleasure of visiting him and interviewing him several years ago. Read the story I wrote about Mr. Calhoun in 2008 for Edible PiedmontMagazine < http://www.ediblecommunities.com/piedmont/pages/articles/fall08/ediblePlateau.pdf>, if you’re hungry for more on apples on Southern farms and tables. Or go find some apples and treat yourself to the sweet and satisfying fall indulgence, apple pie. For my pie I used a combination of granny smiths, jonagolds, golden delicious, and macintosh, and the fragrance from the oven about halfway through the baking time floated through the house. Apple pie suits me on days when I don’t want to pay a lot of attention to my pie work — once you’ve made an apple pie or two or three, you’ll most likely need no measuring and recipes at all, and you can vary this simple standard formula to suit yourself — more spice? less sugar? a squeeze of lemon or a splash of cider or water to juice things up? It’s all up to you and your apple pie attitude.
Nancie’s Everyday Apple Pie
Pastry for a double-crust pie
8 cups peeled and sliced apples (about 8 good-sized apples)
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small bits
Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a pie pan with one sheet of piecrust, leaving about 1 1/2 inches overlappingthe edges of the pie pan. Place the apples in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, combine the sugar, flour cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt, and stir with a fork to mix everything together well. Pour the sugar-spice mixture over the apples, and use your hands or a large spoon to toss them gently, so that the apples are seasoned fairly evenly. Pour the apples into the piecrust, and pile them up so that they peak in the middle. Sprinkle the butter all over the apples so that it’s evenly distributed. Carefully drape the top crust over the apples, and then press it gently around the inside edge of the pie pan, covering the apples well. Fold the bottom crust up and over the edges of the top crust and press to seal them together well. Using the tines of a fork or your fingers, press the crust into a handsome edge for the pie. (If you have lots of crust, trim it so that you have plenty to enclose and seal up the pie, but not a great excess of dough.) Using a butter knife, cut small steam vents in the top crust. Place the pie in the 425 degree oven and bake until the apples have softened, the pie is fragrant, the crust is handsomely browned, and a thick shiny syrup is bubbling up here and there around the pie, 40 to 55 minutes. Place the pie on a cooling rack or a folded kitchen towel and let cool for an hour or so. Serve warm or at room temperature.