Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Recipe Time: “It's Apple Pie—You've Gotta Care About Apple Pie!”

Smell the cinnamon and spices--the buttery baked crust...mmmmm.

For a large part of my life, my father owned a bakery. Born before 1920, daddy was very old-school about a lot of things, but he was also a man of considerable idiosyncracies inconguous with his being a Jim Crow-South born, Army veteran, major-league playboy of a certain vintage.

Daddy was also what one would now call "a foodie".

He ran a restaurant and a bakery, and a dairy in my childhood and adolescence, and was quite hardcore about how food should be prepared. As he was serving people food for a living, he very much cared about what folks ate. It really mattered to him. I'd stand in the doorway of the the restaurant's smallish kitchen, watching him teaching his chefs about this and that--properly seasoning a chicken, how to tenderize meat, the way to manipulate a whisk while beating egg whites and cream of tartar into a meringiue--things like that.

But what he was hardest of core about was baking. There was a "way" to do certain things. Even if he and his crew were making up a batch of batter for 200 carrot cakes at a time--you didn't scrimp on technique and ingredients. He was a taskmaster, because people cherished their sweets--they were special things to be looked forward to. And when his guys--especially the second-shift crew, who worked largely unsupervised, would screw up a batch of pies or cakes, he would go ballistic. Imagine if you will, a Black Gordon Ramsay--losing it.

"Who the fuck wants to eat a BAD PIE?! HUH? NOBODY, THAT'S WHO! NOBODY WANTS TO EAT A BAD PIE!”, I would hear him thunder from his office above the bakery at whoever cut corners and botched a batch. Early one morning, I was coming to the bakery to fill in for a vacationing cake man when I happened upon my dad angrily setting up a presentation in the large office upstairs. Laid out on the table were an array of mal-formed, mis-colored pies and cakes he had gathered from the cooling rooms and was assembling as visual proof of baking fuck-uppery downstairs. But dead-center on the table were a quartet of ugly, burned, ill-baked pies--apple pies--that were simply awful.

"Wow. That's a mess.", I said.

"It's gonna be a real mess up here when I kick the asses of the fuckers responsible for this shit!" He growled. "Go tell the crew I said to get up here. Now. I don't care what they're doing--tell 'em I said come up here. You stay downstairs."

I did what I was told, and as the crew trudged warily upstairs I busied myself gloving up to ice cakes--large batches of cakes are often iced using one's hands in rubber gloves instead of spatulas. It's quicker. As I began icing, I heard my father's voice roar through the floorboards and echo down the staircase into the wrapping room.

"How would you feel if someone served you a pie that looked LIKE THIS? Sunday night, after dinner, nobody wants to eat a pie like THIS with a scoop of ice cream! Look at this! Do you care? DO YOU EVEN CARE ABOUT WHO'S GONNA EAT THIS STUFF AFTER IT LEAVES YOUR HANDS?! I mean,'s apple pie! People love apple pie! YOU'VE GOTTA CARE ABOUT APPLE PIE!"

He went on about how people are really particular about their sweets, and how the crew should think about that when they're baking. "Dessert...people look forward to that. Kids live for it. It's why you have a job. You keep 'em coming back when the stuff is good, and for it to be good, you have to care. Apple pie? Come can't fuck up Apple pie! If you ain't gonna get apple pie right...I mean..."

He wasn't a flag-waving wingnut hung up on symbolism or anything like that. But he was a stickler for getting the classic things right--like apple pie. Bitter, hard fillings were taboo. Gooey mushy innards, too. Stiff, plastery, burned crusts with collapsed, soupy, ill-seasoned fruit within was something you just didn't do. And he--my father passed down his stickling for "getting it right" to us kids when it came to food...and baking...and specifically Apple Pie. Thus, the following recipé for that American favorite on this day--a day that pissed off the great Frederick Douglass with very good reason, and should give us all reason to pause and think about what it really means.

But dammit...who can say no to delicious apple pie with a dollop of vanilla ice cream on a warm summer's night? Especially home made. Try this recipé on fer size! :)

A two-pack of Oronoque Farms Vegetable Shortening 9-inch Pie Crusts.
5 to 6 large apples--Granny Smith or Winesap variety
1 tablespoon of Lemon Juice
1/2 cup of White Sugar
1/4 cup of Brown Sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons of Cornstarch
1 teaspoon of ground Cinnamon
A pinch of Nutmeg
1 large Egg White, beaten with a tablespoon of Water
and a teaspoon of Milk
2 tablespoons of Unsalted Butter cut into small pats

Pre-heat your oven to 425º degrees.

You can use the Oronoque Crusts or really any decent shortening crust (As I don't do pork, I go with vegetable shortening), but if you're hard-core as I generally am, you can make 'em from scratch using this recipé here. Keep 'em in the fridge for now. Not the freezer--but the fridge, under cellophane.

Peel your apples. You'll find the Granny Smiths more available--if you can get 'em from a Farmer's Market, that'll be best. But if you can get your hands on Winesaps, a delicious, sweet, snappy snacking/baking apple, do so--you won't be sorry. DO NOT USE RED DELICIOUS, GALAS OR FUJIS. These are eating apples, not generally good for baking. They make lovely applesauce though, but because of their water content, tend to cook "down" into a near-roux under long heat. Core the apples too, and cut 'em into thickish slices/slabs. Put these in a large bowl and quickly garnish with the lemon juice to prevent them from oxidizing, or browning in the open air. Lemon juice chemically reacts with the tannic acid in the apples and keeps 'em fresher.

While in the large bowl, toss the apples with the sugar--white and brown, the cornstarch, cinnamon and nutmeg until you have a nice brownish mix of apples and spices. It'll smell great! Get your pie crusts ready now. If it's the Crisco crust, take one, press it into the pan--a nine-incher, and roll the excess crust overhang onto the edge to double its thickness and create a thick edge. Brush the bottom and sides of it with the egg white mixture to temper the crust for baking. If they're the Oronoques, just brush the crust the same way. Spoon in the apple filling, and then dot the top of it with the cut-up butter pats.

Take the second crust and place it over the filled pie, pressing it down lightly over the mound of apple mixture. Roll its excess onto the crust edge and crimp it with a fork or simply press it into a thickened edge. Puncture the crust top with either a knife, cutting three or four slits in the center, three inches long to allow for the internal steam to vent while baking, or you could take a fork and punch in a decorative pattern of your choice--as long as there are enough holes to vent the steam. Brush the top crust all over with what's left of the egg white/milk/water mixture.

Put the pie on the oven rack, and knock the heat down to 350º F. Get a pinch of sugar and cinnamon, mix it in your hand. Sprinkle it around on the crust top. Then bake that sucker until the the apples are tender and you see juices bubbling through cracks in the crust's top and edges. Or when the crust is a deep, golden brown--this should take about one hour.

Let the pie cool on a rack before serving, and serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Have yourself a slice of that bad boy with a dollop of vanilla ice cream, or a slice of white Canadian cheddar, or a nice cup of coffee.

And congratulate your bad self for a job well done. :)