Pie’s the Thing!

Nancy Berkoff

So, what type of apples so you like? Green, golden, pink or red? Sugary sweet or puckery sour? How do you like to eat your apples? Piping hot, baked with raisins and walnuts? Cold and crunchy, right from the refrigerator? Or do you prefer one of the world’s favorite desserts, apple pie?

The flavor of your pie will be decided by the apple variety you select. Red Delicious are the good ol’ standbys of eating apples, but they can be cooked for a firm, rather than soft, pie filling. Mix the Red with the Golden for a change. If you like the sweetness of Red Delicious, you’ll like Cameo (very sweet with a nice crunch), Fuji (sweet and crunchy) and Gala (a cross between a Golden Delicious and the New Zealand Orange Red).

If you go for a more rounded flavor, sweet with some overtones of tang, then you’ll like Braeburn, Pink Lady and Jonagold. Look in farmers markets or specialty produce stores for heirloom, or antique varieties, such as Maiden Blush, Winesap or MacIntosh or for fairly new varieties, such as Honeygold and its brand-new cousin, Honeycrisp. These apples are beautiful to look at and delightful to eat. If you’d like to stay with cooking apples, look for Rome, Granny Smith or Pippins. Cooking varieties handle heat better, as they have more fiber and less juice. This allows them to hold their shape when being baked, sautéed, broiled or microwaved.

When it comes to apples, there is a shape, color and size to fit everyone’s needs. A very international fruit, apples are grown in just about every climate, although they like a temperate climate the best. The Romans started the cultivation of apples, spreading this “forbidden fruit” or “fruit of knowledge” throughout the modern world.

Nothing beats the smell of a freshly baked apple pie. Depending on your time and your equipment you may elect to bake apple pies strictly from scratch or indulge in a little speed -scratch.

Apple pie can range from simple and traditional to modern and fusion. You can use one type of apple, a mixture of sweet and tart apples, or pear and apple combinations. Filling add-ins can include dried cherries, golden raisins, currants, dried cranberries and finely chopped nuts.

Act like some professional apple-pie purveyors and purchase frozen, ready-to-bake pies. We were amazed, when visiting several “apple country” locales over the years, to discover pallets-full of frozen pies ready to be baked and sold to visitors. Bake off pies as you need them, making them a signature dish by garnishing pies just removed from the oven with shredded, sharp cheddar cheese or with a drizzle of melted cinnamon candies or melted caramels.

If you are a strictly a pick-it-up-at-the store apple pie person, think about selecting one of Costco’s have-it-on-occasion gigundo (and flavorful) apple pies or the local market’s made-in-the-store pie. If you’d like to make the store-bought pie your own, think about gussying it up with:

A La Mode: top hot or warm pie with a generous serving of:

  • traditional French vanilla bean ice cream
  • lavender ice cream
  • spicy cinnamon ice cream
  • lemon and ginger sorbet
  • rum raisin ice cream
  • butter pecan ice cream
  • With a Dollop: top warm or cold pie with whipping cream flavored with a very small amount of vanilla, orange, almond, or ginger extract or brandy or rum

Cheese, please: whether served in a pool of sauce, topped with melty shredded or accompanied by a petite wedge, apple pie likes this cheese: sharp or extra sharp Vermont, New York or Irish cheddar, Stilton or Double Gloucester, Gruyere, Swiss, or Emmenthal, Edam or Gouda, Norwegian Brown cheese, Muenster or Fontina

If you’d like to do a bit of hands-on baking, but don’t feel like rolling out the pie crust or peeling apples, purchase frozen or refrigerated pie crusts and canned apple pie filling. Toss canned filling with your favorite aromatic spice blend and chopped walnuts, pecans, raisins, dried cranberries or diced dried figs. Top with a second crust, with a crust cut into lattice strips, with streusel topping or with a combination of brown sugar and butter. Prepare ahead of time and refrigerate until you are ready to bake them.

Unless you like sog, don’t re-heat pie in the microwave. Either tough it out and eat your slice cold, or go the extra mile and re-heat in a very hot oven, under the broiler, or even in the air fryer.

Tarte Tatin is apple pie, all grown up and back from a Continental tour. It is really an upside- down apple tart, topped with a caramel sauce. As with many culinary discoveries, the Tatin is thought to have been a delightful accident. The story goes that Stephanie Tatin, half of a sister team running the Hotel Tatin, in Beuvron, France, in 1889, was having a bad kitchen day. She started to make a traditional apple pie, but left the apples cooking in butter and sugar for too long. Smelling the burning, she tried to rescue the dish by putting the pastry base on top of the pan of apples, quickly finishing the cooking by putting the whole pan in the oven. After turning out the upside-down tart, she was surprised to find how much the hotel guests appreciated the desert.

To create your own tatin, start by peeling tart apples, such as Granny Smiths, rubbing them with lemon juice, halving and coring them. Place slices of butter on the bottom of a pan that can handle the stove and the oven, sprinkle with sugar, and place the apple halves on top their stem ends up, going ‘round the pan.

Bring to a simmer on top of the stove. Keep cooking until you get a fragrant, light mahogany caramel bubbling up in between the apples, and then place in the oven until the apples are tender. Remove the pan and let the apples cool. Top with either your own pie dough or puff pastry and return to the oven for fifteen more minutes. Let the tart cool and flip on to a serving platter. You should have tender, caramel soaked apple halves, and a crispy bottom crust. Top with a dollop of freshly whipped cream, called it “apple pie with an attitude.” and start dishing.

With numerous years in health care and education, Nancy, RD, EdD, would love for readers to ask food -and nutrition-related questions: foodprof2@gmail.com.

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