Our second summer in our house and the Golden Delicious apple tree in the backyard is drooping and dropping with fruit; last night one of the branches cracked off, depositing a heavy load of apples onto the dry grass — they’re not quite ripe so I’ll turn them into applesauce. On the other tree the Gravensteins are just about perfect and there are a lot less of them so we’re being judicious about how we consume them (best: eating straight from the tree. Even better: put into a pie). Gravensteins are an early apple and their season is short. They are perfect for pie because they are tart and firm and if you’re like me and don’t like an overly sweet pie they make for an ideal filling.
This summer — the summer of being at home, the summer of reading books like The New Jim Crow and The Warmth of Other Suns — has by default also become the summer of swimming the Russian River and generous neighbors’ pools, the summer of watching fruit ripen, the summer of picking blackberries and making jam again for the first time in many years. We got enough blackberries from the neighborhood bushes yesterday so I could make a double batch and it brought back my previous jam-making years (remember all that jam I made when I got married?). I used to buy flats of strawberries from the Fillmore Farmer’s Market and turn those into jam, too. Next year we hope to plant a few raised beds with vegetables and fruit to pop into the jam pots as well.
In the meanwhile, we have a glut of apples we’ll turn into pie and sauce. Gravensteins, the apple I wrote about for NPR seven years ago are my favorite for putting into pie because they have a distinctive flavor and texture that holds up well to baking. I used 3/4 cup of brown sugar in this recent pie but I think you could get away with less, about a 1/2 cup. Otherwise it’s a very simple, sturdy pie with a bit of spice and not too much else. When apples are in season and this good you don’t need to fuss too much with them.
As mentioned, the branches of our Golden Delicious tree are sagging under the weight of slowly ripening apples so when the Gravensteins are gone we’ll have to do something with them other than toss them over the fence to the neighbors’s ever-eager goats. Cake, chutney, crisp — I think of apples as the bridge between summer and fall which, after all, is just next month already. It has been a slow summer yet it’s gone by quickly, as most summers tend to do when you’re staring down the advent of autumn. Hope yours has been treating you well.
You could use any apples in place of the Gravensteins but if you can get them, they are perfect for this lightly sweet, fragrant pie.
Makes one pie.
Crust for 9-inch pie
2 1/2 cups whole grain flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup of cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup of ice water
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and salt. Cut in the butter with a fork or your hands until the flour is crumbly and the butter is well integrated. Using a fork, stir in the water a little bit at a time (you may not need the entire cup) until the dough holds together. Knead it with your hands until it can form a smooth ball, then divide the ball in half, press each half into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and rest in the fridge at least a half hour.
8 cups of Gravenstein apples, peeled, cored and sliced into a large bowl
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2-3/4 cup loosely packed brown sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons of butter
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Rub a pie pan with butter and have a baking sheet ready.
Whisk together the brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg in a small bowl, then mix lightly through the apples. Pile in the apples and dot with thin slices of butter. Place top crust on pie, crimp the edges, and cut a few vents in the top. Place pie on a baking sheet, place in the oven and bake for about 50 minutes or until the crust is lightly browned, apples are cooked through, and the filling is bubbling. I have read that baking a pie a bit longer than you think you should is a good idea though you’ll have to watch it to make sure the crust doesn’t burn.
Remove pie from oven and let it cool thoroughly before serving. I like to wait at least 2-3 hours so the filling will fully set.