WHAT IS the best pie apple? There are several schools of thought on this.
Some people have their absolute favorites, and will go the extra mile to obtain them. More than one baker dispatched their adult child on a pilgrimage to our booth in the Massachusetts Building at the Eastern States Exposition in September when word got out that we were in possession of some Red Gravensteins. These emissaries purchased a bagful of these hard-to-find heirloom apples to fashion into a pie made exclusively with them. Similarly, we know of several sage bakers who insist that there is no better pie apple than Northern Spy, another heirloom.
Then there is the mix-and-match strategy (one we favor), where you combine a few apples each of several varieties to produce a pie rich in texture (with varieties like Cortland or Honeycrisp) and flavor (such as McIntosh and Empire). Using this method, you can experiment until you find just the right blend of sweet and tart to please your palate. Texture, too, is subjective; some like a mushy pie, while others prefer that their fork meets some resistance.
Perhaps food writer Ken Haedrich put it best in his 2002 book Apple Pie Perfect (Harvard Common Press): “Don’t worry so much about variety. Just get to know your apples and start making pies. The fact is, I’ve met very few apples in my lifetime that I couldn’t make into a respectable pie.”
However you approach it, we are now entering a peak period for pies heading into the holiday season. We’ll be presenting a different apple pie recipe for each of the next three weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, accompanied by videos featuring Andrea Darrow of Green Mountain Orchards in Putney, Vermont, who takes you step-by-step through her pie-making process. In Part 1 of the series, Andrea prepares apples for the pie filling. She makes hundreds of pies a year for the orchard’s farm stand, and she peels the apples by hand for every single one of them.
One of my sisters-in-law brought this pie to Thanksgiving dinner in 1983, and it has been a family favorite ever since. It calls for baking mix (aka Bisquick) in two places, but you can easily substitute this homemade version instead. Mix together:
1½ c whole wheat flour
2¼ t baking powder
½ t salt
2 T butter
Impossible French Apple Pie
In a large bowl, combine and turn into greased deep-dish pie plate:
6 c sliced New England apples
1¼ t cinnamon
¼ t nutmeg
In medium bowl, beat until smooth, and pour over apples:
½ c sugar
¾ c milk
½ c baking mix
2 T softened butter
In medium bowl, mix streusel topping, and sprinkle over pie:
1 c baking mix
½ c chopped walnuts
⅓ c brown sugar
3 T butter
Bake at 325˚ for 1 hour.