Today seems like a day John Steinbeck would have loved — it is cloudy with drifting fog and the sun, while struggling to get through, can’t quite make it. I’m not sure why I feel it’s so Steinbeckian; he, of course, also wrote a lot about the cool, crystal light of Monterey and Salinas, where it is often very clear.
But there’s something about this afternoon … perhaps I am thinking of that bit in “Sweet Thursday” when Doc has a proper ocean feast with a hermit, complete with sea urchins, along a wind-blown stretch on the central coast, and if the author could have written a scene like that, I think he would have liked today as well.
Steinbeck, to me, is California — is America, too — and while I’m on the subject, what, really, is more “American” than apple pie? (Or so it’s said; not really sure I agree with that claim.) And I do love to make apple pies. About a month ago I stayed up late on a Friday night feverishly baking four apple pies to enter in the Sebastopol Gravenstein Apple Fair’s pie contest — and it’s time to share my — if not winning, still pretty good — recipe.
I’ve been making this quick and easy version of apple pie for a few years now. The first time I made it was for a friend who had dairy allergies and I didn’t want to take a chance even with organic butter; now I mostly make it for my dad or for my vegan friends, but I actually prefer a pie crust made without butter because it’s overall much less heavy and … buttery.
I think the trick to achieving a really light, really flaky crust is to start with very cold ingredients and then let it rest in the fridge for at least a 1/2-hour before rolling and filling. My standby recipe is adapted from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, one of those oldie-but-goodies with a lot of fine, staple recipes for baked goods (that’s pretty much all I use it for; the Boston Favorite Cake is my usual cupcake recipe). When I’m in Sebastopol, I use Gravenstein apples straight from the tree, but a mix of apples and pears, especially in the winter, is lovely, or you can use any kind of fruit you like. I made a peach-raspberry pie this summer that turned out well.
Today is also a day that makes me a bit nostalgic for September 2005, when I was training for the Marine Corps Marathon. I’d go out in the early afternoon (around 2p, which was after the kindergarten bus had finished depositing its valuable cargo, but before the end-of-school rush; the roads were too narrow to share) on days that were often as grey and chilly as this. I’d set my feet and mind straight ahead on the miles to run, and it was extradordinarily peaceful — a sort of time out of time. My run today was about half of the standard daily 9.5-miles I ran that fall, but my mind wandered just the same, and the miles flew by.
I made a lot of pies then, too.
Apple Pie, adapted from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook
2 1/2 cups flour (can use a mix of wheat/white)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup (or so) oil (I use a mix of canola and olive oils), chilled
6 Tb. ice water
Mix the flour, sugar, and salt. Cut in the oil with a fork or a pastry blender. Combine until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle water over the flour, a tablespoon at a time, and mix lightly with a fork, using just enough so that the pastry will hold together when pressed gently in a ball. Wrap in waxed paper and let rest in the fridge at least 30 minutes.
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 1/2 Tb. flour
6 large apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
Preheat the oven to 425 F. Divide the dough in half and roll out and fit one half into a 9-inch pie pan. Mix the sugar, salt, spices, and flour in a bowl. Toss the apple slices in the sugar mixture, coating well. Pile into the lined pan and roll out the top crust and drape over the pie. Crimp the edges and cut several vents in the top.
Bake 10 minutes at 425 F, then lower the heat to 350 F and bake 30-45 minutes more or until the apples are tender and bubbly and the crust is browned. I usually place the pie on a baking sheet in case of spillage.
*Special thanks to my friend, Randy, who photographed my pies when I forgot, and who I really need to have over for dinner along with his lovely girlfriend, Sylvie. Soon!