If you’re going to celebrate World Pie Day (possibly it’s just National Pie Day) on January 23, you’ll need to know how to make the perfect apple pie. For that, there’s no better source than “Pie Lady,” Beth Howard, author of Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie. It chronicles the year she spent in the aftermath of the sudden death of her husband, Marcus. She road-tripped cross-country in his RV, making pie, teaching pie making, filming a documentary about pie, judging pie competitions, and ultimately landing in her home state of Iowa, where she now lives in the American Gothic house).
Robert Downey Jr. loved her peach pie. She once whipped up a lemon meringue pie for Barbra Streisand who ordered it for a dinner party (though it didn’t survive the speed-bump strewn ride to Streisand’s house). She once pulled a 24-hour all nighter to bake 200 pecan, pumpkin and apple pies for Thanksgiving.
She writes early in the book, “Whenever I encountered apples, I made pie. Because I went to college in Washington State — where forty-two percent of America’s apples are grown — I made a lot of pies. Whenever I encountered a prospective husband, I applied my mother’s strategy and made pie. And because I was a warm-blooded young woman — a fallen Catholic, no less — I made even more pies. I made an apple pie for every eligible bachelor I set my sights on… Jesus, I made a lot of apple pie — or, as I liked to call it, ‘lust in a crust.’”
Beth’s “Lust in a Crust” Apple Pie
recipe from Beth’s pie teacher, Mary Spellman
1 double crust (see Beth’s Pie Crust Recipe at right)
7 large Granny Smith apples, peeled (depending on size of apple & size of pie dish, have about 3 lbs. available)
*It’s also okay to use a variety of apples, try Braeburn and Royal Gala. Do not use Fuji or Delicious, they are too juicy and lack tartness. Approximate rule of thumb is 3 pounds of fruit per pie.
3/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons flour
Dash of salt
1 to 2 teaspoons cinnamon (depending on how much you like)
1 tablespoon butter (to put on top of apples before covering with top crust)
1 beaten egg (you won’t use all of it, just enough to brush on pie before baking)
Lay the prepared bottom crust into the pie dish.
Slice half of the peeled apples directly into the pie, arranging and pressing them into the dish to remove extra space between slices. Cover with half of your other ingredients (sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt), then slice the remaining apples and cover with second half of ingredients. Add dollop of butter on top, cover with top crust, seal and crimp edges, then brush with beaten egg (this gives the pie a nice golden brown shine; be careful not to let egg pool in crevices.) Use a knife to poke vent holes in the top (get creative here with a unique pattern if you want), then bake at 425 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. Turn oven down to 375 degrees and bake for another 30 to 40 minutes until juice bubbles. Keep an eye on it as it bakes. If it gets too brown turn down the temperature. To be sure it’s done, poke with a knife to make sure apples have softened. Do not overbake or apples will turn mushy.
Beth’s Pie Crust
2-1/2 cups flour
(white all-purpose; but have at least 3 and 1/2 cups on hand, as you’ll need extra flour to roll dough and to thicken filling)
1/2 cup butter, chilled
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
Dash of salt
Ice water (fill one cup but use only enough to moisten dough)
In a deep bowl, work the butter and shortening into the flour with your hands until you see marble-sized lumps form. Think mixed nuts, but no bigger than almonds. Pour in ice water a little at a time, sort of “fluffing” the flour. Keep your movements light, as if you are tossing dressing into a salad with your hands. When the dough feels moistened enough, do a “squeeze test” and when it holds together you’re done. Your dough should feel tacky but not wet. Do not overwork the dough! It takes very little time and you’ll be tempted to keep touching it, but don’t! Now divide the dough in two balls. Form each half into a disk shape. Roll flat and thin to fit your pie dish. Sprinkle flour under and on top of your dough, to keep it from sticking to your rolling surface. Trim excess dough around the edges with scissors so that it is about 1 inch wider than the dish edge.