Over the past four years, I have embraced the 70 year old woman living inside me, and entered the traditional double-crust apple pie contest at the Cumberland County Fair. My inner old lady also likes to knit and pick up coins off the ground, even the Canadian ones. I love her. Every year, I have gone into the contest confident. I have this amazing crust recipe that I have adapted from one I found online years ago. It uses shortening and butter, milk and egg yolk, the very best ingredients that nature and Cincinnati’s Crisco factory have to offer. I am in love with this pie crust. It is easy to work, and has amazing flavor, which I have always found to be lacking in most pie crusts.
For three years, my husband has been “forced’ to eat test pie after test pie, a task he has taken very seriously, until I had found the perfect blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, vanilla and ginger. I used three different varieties of apples, all peeled and thinly sliced by hand. Every year, I mentally prepared a place in my home for the inevitable blue ribbon. I never won. I never even placed. In fact, the third year I entered, I was sitting behind two women; they were talking about all the different recipes. Each pie must be accompanied by the recipe on a 4×6 index card. They are very strict about the 4×6 part. Anyway, one woman looks at the other and says, “Can you believe that someone actually puts vanilla extract and ginger in their pie?” The scandal!
Fast forward to this year. I spent months pouring through old cookbooks… I mean old cookbooks. Cookbooks in which 350 degrees was referred to as a “slow oven.” I read countless apple pie recipes, took notes, and tested out at least five different cinnamon and nutmeg ratios because I had learned that those are the only two acceptable spices to use in a “traditional” apple pie. I even changed my crust recipe. My perfect, easy to roll out, crumbly-crust recipe, because “traditional” pie crusts don’t have egg yolk and milk in them, they use strictly cold water. They also use lard in place of shortening and butter, but I had to draw the line somewhere.
I entered the contest this year with the most traditional apple pie that you’ve even seen, intricate lattice top and all. Once again, I didn’t win. I didn’t even place. In fact, the first and second place winners were both middle-aged dudes, the only two guys in a sea of silver haired ladies, and of course me. When the crowd thinned and the pies laid there on the table, I snuck a peek at the first place pie’s recipe card and there, staring back at me were unfamiliar words like “tapioca flour” and “cane sugar.”
Are you kidding me? My grandmother didn’t cook with those! That was it for me. No more making food based on what I thought others wanted. I was going to bake my way, with ginger and egg yolks. So, here is my recipe for non-traditional apple pie. And if you’re still one of those people that thinks that using fresh ginger in apple pie is akin to blasphemy, I can point you in the direction of a few cookbooks from the 1940’s that have some apple pie recipes that may be a bit more your style.
For the Crust:
- 2–1/2 cups sifted flour
- 1/2 cup Crisco (cold)
- 1/2 cup butter (cold)
- 1 egg yolk, beaten
- 2/3 cup milk (cold)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
For the Filling:
- 8 Cortland apples
- 1/3 cup flour
- 3/4 cup cane sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
- 2 tablespoons butter
For the Crust:
- Sift flour and salt into large mixing bowl.
- Cut in butter and shortening using a pastry cutter until pea-sized balls form. Beat egg yolk, setting aside the white. Beat egg yolk and vanilla extract into the milk. Slowly add the milk mixture to the flour mixture, continuously tossing with a fork until all milk has been added.
- The dough will form large clumps rather than coming together into one piece of dough. Divide in half and form two balls of dough. Place in refrigerator until ready to roll out.
For the Filling
- Peel, core and thinly slice the apples. Toss sliced apples with all filling ingredients except for butter. Set aside.
- Roll out one of the dough balls on a floured surface and line a 9 or 10 inch pie plate.
- Fill with apple mixture. Thinly slice 2 T. butter and dot the top of apple filling with slices.
- Roll out second dough ball and cover the filling, crimp the edges shut and cut away excess dough. Beat the egg white that you set aside earlier and brush the top of the crust with egg white. Cut slits in the top of the pie to allow steam to escape during cooking. Cover edges of pie with tin foil or wet muslin.
- Bake for 30 minutes with edges covered. After 30 minutes, remove tin foil or muslin and cook for another 30 to 40 minutes until top is golden brown.
Photos: Kasey Ahlquist