A Beginner Attempts a Prize-Winning Pie


Pie sliceEmbarrassing to admit, I never baked an entire apple pie before this weekend. How un-American! When I was a newspaper reporter, I once watched, enthralled, as experienced bakers rolled dough and cut apples for a contest at the Salem Cross Inn near Sturbridge, Massachusetts. But my grandmothers, who were supposed to tie on white aprons and teach me, never baked pies. Neither did my mother. My previous attempts at crust ended up a crumbly or sticky mess, so I always gave up before it came time for the easy part – the filling.

It’s high time I learned this ancient art. The practice of baking food on top of some kind of dough dates back to the first civilizations in Greece, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Arabia, according to the foodtimeline. Fruit pie as we know it first appeared in the early 19th century.

Pie filling and crustThe pressure is on to practice now. In a little more than a month, I am stepping into the role of the designated Thanksgiving pie baker. For inspiration, I found a booklet of 1990 apple pie prize winners from the Topsfield Fair, an annual October event north of Boston. Since the first prize filling was published without a crust recipe, I chose the second prize crust. It seemed simpler than the runners-up, which called for blending Crisco (ugh) and butter, then adding ice water a little at a time to reach the right consistency. As if I would know!

I struggled and sweated, but I managed to fill a pie plate with a bottom crust, a filling, and a top crust. I can’t say this pie would win any beauty contests, but the filling turned into a colorful, caramelized mix of apples, cranberries, and brandy-soaked raisins. It did bubble out of the crust and make a mess in the oven, but next time, I will place a baking sheet underneath the dish. The friends who tried it asked for the recipe, so I know it’s a winner!

Pie baked

Apple Cranberry Currant Pie (1990)
Makes 1 (9 or 10) inch pie

Crust (prepare one at a time):Pie crust
1 1/3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup oil, filled to 1/2 cup with milk

  1. Place the flour and salt in a bowl and stir together. Fill a measuring cup with 1/3 cup oil and add the milk [the milk sinks to the bottom].
  2. Pour the oil mixture into the flour. Mix with a fork until the crust forms a ball (do not overmix). [At the end, I pulled together the ball of dough with my hands].
  3. Place the dough between two pieces of waxed paper or parchment paper and roll into a disk 10 to 11 inches in diameter [about 1 inch more than the circumference of your pie plate].
  4. Peel off one sheet of the paper and turn the dough over onto the pie plate. Remove the second sheet of paper and fit the dough into the plate, leaving about 1/2 inch of dough around the edge for when you add the top crust.
  5. Repeat for the second crust.

1/3 cup brandy
2 teaspoons grated orange rind
1 cup currants [I used raisins]
1/2 cup flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3 pounds (5-6 apples) tart apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
1/2 cup orange juice
2 cups whole fresh cranberries
1/4 cup cold butter, cut into bits
1 egg yolk, beaten with a little milk

  1. Place the brandy, orange rind, and currants or raisins in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover the pan, and simmer 5 minutes. Take off the heat. Uncover and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and ginger. Add the apples and toss to coat the apples. Add the orange juice and the brandy mixture. Toss and add the cranberries and butter. Toss again. Set aside.
  3. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  4. Fill the pie shell heaping full and pack down the filling with the back of a spoon. Roll out the second pie crust to an approximately 14 inch diameter. Place on top of the pie. Crimp the edges with your fingers and cut air vents in the top [I pricked it with a fork]. Brush the top with the beaten egg yolk.
  5. Bake on the bottom rack for 15 minutes. Lower the heat to 350 degrees and bake 45-55 minutes more or until golden. Let cool completely before cutting or it will run. Store at room temperature.

About heritagerecipebox

I am named after my great-grandmother, who only prepared two dishes, according to anyone who remembers. Somehow I ended up with a cooking gene that I brought with me from Richmond, Virginia to my current home in Boston, Massachusetts. I have worked as a journalist and published three cookbooks plus a memoir and a novel. This blog gives me a chance to share family recipes and other American recipes with a past.
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