Winning Apple Pies

Russell Powell New England apple varieties, Recipes 1 Comment

Winning bakers Lori and Michael Meiners.

Winning bakers Lori and Michael Meiners.

CONGRATULATIONS to the wife-and-husband team of Lori and Michael Meiners and their four-year-old son, Jack, winners in this year’s Great New England Apple Pie Contest.

Michael, with Jack’s help, won the Apple Only category with Jack Meiners’ Oatmeal Crisp Apple Pie.

Lori, who won the Apple Only category in the 2013 contest, won this year in Apple and Other with her Blue-Apple Pie.

Judges Tony Bristol and Ginny Sears of radio station 96.1 SRS, Bar Lois Weeks, executive director of the New England Apple Association, and Russell Steven Powell sampled 30 pies beneath a tent on a cool Saturday morning during Wachusett Mountain’s annual AppleFest October 13.

Beautiful latticework tops this apple pie. (Russell Steven Powell)

Beautiful latticework tops this apple pie. (Russell Steven Powell)

Swirls of caramel sweetened this entry. (Russell Steven Powell)

Swirls of caramel sweetened this entry. (Russell Steven Powell)

A beautiful design in cinnamon. (Russell Steven Powell)

A beautiful design in cinnamon.            (Russell Steven Powell)

A sculpted apple lies at the center of this elaborate crust. (Russell Steven Powell)

A sculpted apple lies at the center of this elaborate crust. (Russell Steven Powell)

THE COMPETITION was strong, with a number of flavorful pies, beautifully made and presented. Pies were judged for flavor, texture, and crust, with lesser weight for appearance and presentation.

The Meiners’ pies were well baked, lightly spiced, with plenty of apple flavor. Michael’s crumb topping was well made, sweet but not overpowering, while Lori made a light, flaky crust. They both took great care in appearance and presentation.

The Meiners, of Hubbardston, Massachusetts (home of the heirloom Hubbardston Nonesuch), are veterans of the Great New England Apple Pie Contest, now concluding its ninth year. Lori has entered several times since her first-place winner in 2013, and this was the third time for Michael.

“The first year it was mostly for the fun of making a pie with Jack,” says Lori about Michael. “They used leftover bits and pieces while I was making mine, and they cobbled one together. They entered last year, paying more attention to the recipe and won third place.

“They made adjustments to the recipe this year — successfully, it would seem!”

Michael’s and Jack’s full recipe includes special child-centered instructions like “Have a parent help you peel the apples,” and “Have an adult remove from the oven,” based on their experience.

Pie, or rose? (Russell Steven Powell)

Pie, or rose? (Russell Steven Powell)

A beautiful, creative appearance and presentation. (Russell Steven Powell)

A beautiful, creative appearance and presentation. (Russell Steven Powell)

Four and twenty blackbirds? One peeks out from this pie. (Russell Steven Powell)

Four and twenty blackbirds? One peeks out from this pie. (Russell Steven Powell)

This entry was made with a springform pan. (Russell Steven Powell)

This entry was made with a springform pan. (Russell Steven Powell)

THE BIGGEST SURPRISE from the two winning recipes is how few apples they use: just two per pie.

“The size of the apples we found this year was the reason for using so few,” says Lori. “The Mutsus were enormous, and the Spies were larger than I’ve ever seen.”

Michael traveled to Bolton Orchards in nearby Bolton, Massachusetts, with a list of several varieties that Lori had either used before or had researched to try to obtain the desired flavor and texture.

“Mike’s brother, Joel, has also entered pies for two years now, and last year his apples and filling were exceptional, so Mike really wanted to use the same variety. That’s how he ended up with Northern Spies.

One of the few entries to feature icing on top. (Russell Steven Powell)

One of the few entries with icing on top. (Russell Steven Powell)

Pecans added flavor and texture to a crumble topping. (Russell Steven Powell)

Pecans added flavor and texture to a crumble topping. (Russell Steven Powell)

Some entries featured sculpted leaves on the top crust. (Russell Steven Powell)

Some entries featured sculpted leaves on the top crust. (Russell Steven Powell)

An unusual savory pie featured bits of goat cheese on top. (Russell Steven Powell)

A savory pie mixed apples with goat cheese. (Russell Steven Powell)

“THE APPLES I USED in my previous winning pie were Golden Delicious. I usually use them, but I like to switch things up each year. I also thought it would be fun to use a different variety in each pie, so Jack could see how different each apple tastes when cooked.

“I was really hoping to find Gravensteins, but they didn’t have any, so we settled for the others on my list: Mutsu, Jonagold, Golden Delicious, and Hudson’s Golden Gems (those were just for us to eat — they’re Mike’s favorite).

Lori chose to bake her pie in a cast-iron skillet, she says, “in hopes of having as non-soggy a pie bottom as possible.

“I put the skillet in the oven while rolling out the crust, and I butter it before I put the crust in. My theory is that the hot iron will start to cook the dough right away, and the butter will crisp it up.

“So far I have had luck with this. Additionally, it holds the heat for some time after removing it from the oven, so when serving the pie it is more likely to still be warm (my preference, with vanilla ice cream or home-made whipped cream!).”

With two young children (the Meiners also have a one-year-old, Harry), it is always a bit of a challenge getting the family out the door, says Lori, and the Saturday of AppleFest was no exception.

“We arrived just in time to register the pies before registration closed. We each entered two pies, and three out of four were winners, so we were pretty glad that they didn’t turn us away for being too late!”

Jack Meiners’ Oatmeal Crisp Apple Pie

Crust for bottom layer of nine-inch pie (use your own crust recipe)

Michael Meiners' winning Jack Meiners’ Oatmeal Crisp Apple Pie. (Russell Steven Powell)

Michael Meiners’ winning Jack Meiners’ Oatmeal Crisp Apple Pie. (Russell Steven Powell)

Filling

2 large Northern Spy apples

⅓ c brown sugar

⅓ c sugar

2 T flour

1 T tapioca

½ t cinnamon

¼ t nutmeg

2 T butter, room temperature

Topping

1 c oatmeal

¾ c flour

¾ c brown sugar

8 T butter (1 stick)

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Peel, core, and slice apples. Place in pie plate.

Mix dry filling ingredients together, and sprinkle over apples.

Pinch 2 T butter with your fingers and put little dollops all over filling.

In small bowl, mix together crisp topping ingredients with your hands so that butter is mixed evenly throughout.

Sprinkle topping over apples.

Bake 35 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on rack.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

Blue-Apple Pie

Lori Meiners' Blue-Apple Pie (Russell Steven Powell)

Lori Meiners’ Blue-Apple Pie (Russell Steven Powell)

(Makes two pies)

Crust

4 c unsifted flour, spooned lightly into cup

1 T sugar

2 t coarse salt

1¾ c shortening

½ c water

1 T cider vinegar

1 egg

Filling

4 large Mutsu apples, peeled, cored, and sliced

2 c frozen wild blueberries

¾ c sugar

¼ c brown sugar

1 t cinnamon

¼ t nutmeg

2 T flour

2 T butter, cut into pieces

1 T sour cream

1 T water

1 egg yolk

In a large bowl, use a fork to prepare crust by mixing flour, sugar, and salt. Cut in shortening until mixture is crumbly.

In a small bowl, gently whisk together ½ c water, vinegar, and egg. Add to flour mixture and stir until just combined.

Divide dough into four portions, quickly form into discs, wrap in plastic or waxed paper and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Place sliced apples in a large bowl and add blueberries.

In a small bowl, mix together sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and flour and add to fruit. Toss to coat.

Preheat oven to 350F°.

Roll out dough, generously flouring flat surface and both sides of dough. Roll out to ¼” thick. Place in pie pan.

Pour filling into pan. Arrange butter pieces across filling.

Roll out top crust and place over apples. Trim edges so there is about ½” of dough hanging over edge of pan. Fold dough under and pinch to seal.

Cut several slits in top crust to vent steam while cooking.

In a small bowl, mix sour cream, water, and egg yolk and paint over top crust.

Bake 35-40 minutes or until crust looks golden. Cool on rack.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

***

These are the baked apple pies for sale, fresh out of the oven at The Big E in September. (Bar Lois Weeks)

These are the baked apple pies for sale, fresh out of the oven at The Big E in September.                                 (Bar Lois Weeks)

LOOKING FOR a great ready-made apple pie? We still have some delicious frozen, five-inch, single-serving pies made by Marge Cook and her son, Sim, for our booth at the Big E. Bake them 40-45 minutes at 375°F or until the crust is golden and the apples are soft.

These are our biggest sellers at the fair, for good reason. Marge and Sim have been making them for the fair for nearly 20 years, and their flaky top crust is a perfect complement to the apples inside.

We have a limited supply, at bargain prices:

24 (one box) for $84

12 for $42

6 for $21 (minimum order)

Email your order to: info@newenglandapples.org.

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