In most places, ‘apple pie order’ refers to perfect tidiness. Around me, not so. It has two meanings for me, each off on its own tangent. The first is very simple: it describes a standard action of my spouse’s–whenever the occasion should arise, he will order apple pie. The second meaning of the phrase in my world is quite the contrary to the idiom. When my husband’s menu request is at home, the pies I am apt to make are anything but orderly.As with all of my kitchen adventures, the making of pie is always and only an approximation of reproducing a Platonic ideal of the pie concept. I am perhaps a touch the cantankerous and childish rebel in the kitchen, constitutionally unable to conform to others’ instructions to the letter. Can’t think of a lot of things as fun as playing with my food, after all. Remarkably, my supertaster spouse, with all of the palatal restrictions this condition inevitably entails, tolerates my machinations and monkeying remarkably well.
I use that phrase advisedly, since despite his uxorious generosity, he still doesn’t hesitate to remark on the results, good or bad. But he doesn’t actually turn up that fine-tuned nose of his very often, as it happens.
The mere physical assembly of a dish is unlikely to come very tidily from my hands, either, given my previously noted propensity for impatience. and slightly anarchic search for visual amusements. Needless to say, anything more pie- or tart-like than a mere crisp or crumble is more often than not going to turn out rustic as can be. Given that I’m a sort of rustic myself, I suppose it’s only fitting.
Thanksgiving‘s apple pie was somewhere in between true ‘apple pie order’ and my kind.
My mother is-was-and-ever-shall-be the indisputable nonpareil, the mistress and icon, of pie making. Her crust is legendary with very good reason. I’ve never met a filling she couldn’t make that wasn’t a paragon, the archetype of its genre. Her fresh raspberry pies, loaded with fruit of the canes she nurtured from cuttings off her father’s plants have been known to reduce adults of seemingly endless sophistication to slobbering infants in one bite, a whole slice to cause delirium, fainting spells, reenactments of the Dancing Plague of 1518, and umpteen return pilgrimages to the dessert table.
Needless to say, my pies grovel in obeisance to Mom‘s, though she’s much too modest and generous to require such a thing. So when she’s in our vicinity for any length of time, you can guess what she bakes for my elated husband. Last time, she went the extra mile and left a spare bottom crust and dough scraps in our freezer. So the Thanksgiving pie was even more reason for giving thanks: Mama’s magical piecrust, ready-made, waiting only to be filled for the big finish.
I blind-baked that bottom crust and a sheet of cinnamon-sugared leaves I’d cut out of the dough scraps, made apple pie filling, warmed all of the parts at the last and assembled the concoction just before serving time. The man with the spare tastebuds deemed the result a little too far inclined toward the nutmeg, and I agreed: I’m always a bit unclear on how much volatile oil is still present when I grate a nutmeg–guess this one was more potent than it smelled to me. But, miraculously, the pie still managed to disappear down various gullets with some alacrity. Not to mention with many spoonfuls of homemade vanilla-cinnamon ice cream.
The filling was a little of this and a little of that, as usual. I always prefer a blend of tart and sweet apples, some firmer and some tenderer, so I chose a mix of Granny Smiths, Braeburns and Golden Delicious from among the grocer’s offerings. I cut them in somewhat varied thicknesses of slice and chunks both, because I like the textural variety it brings as well as the emphasis on the distinct tastes of the types. The rest is fairly standard stuff, mostly: sweetening, spices and flavorings, fat and thickener.
My favorite thickener for apple pie filling is a bit of quick-cooking (small grain) tapioca, which again contrasts in texture with the apples to liven things up a little, and keeps the pie from collapsing when sliced. Or almost does. For sweetening apple pies, I love to use brown sugar for part or all (as in this case), because it’s no secret caramel and apples are a divine pairing and that flavor comes through in a pie nicely. A dram of vanilla to smooth out the caramel flavor. A toss of salt. A little lime juice to spark the sweetness and keep the apples’ color. A good dose of browned butter to add a little nutty undertone. And a last boost of both sweetening and zing, a spoonful of ginger preserves.
That leaves the other pie spices, and I’m pretty sure I’m relatively tame and standard with my cinnamon, nutmeg and a dash of cloves and that little bit of sweet-spicy ginger, even if I did accidentally go a little overboard with the nutmeg this time around. After all, I’m not a monster. It is my husband who asked for apple pie. And he does like his in apple pie order.