I move on to more immediate challenges. What size bowl is needed for 32 ounces of apple slices per pie times twelve pies? This is excruciatingly tricky bakers math first thing in the morning. The answer? A bigger bowl than the one I have just poured the apples into. Now clean up the apples that have just tumbled out of the bowl onto the bakers bench. Next, divide Thanksgiving pie projections by five different kinds of pie, factor in double crust plus crumble and honestly, the numbers are dizzying. This leads me to the extra credit question; how many pie shells will I need to roll between now and November 27th? But I am getting ahead of myself, anticipating the swan song of Daylight-Saving time and the onslaught of November. Better to focus on the now which is surprisingly all about me for a change, and a yearning for my very own apple en croute. Not a double crust workaday pie, a personal pastry that will satisfy an autumnal hunger.
I have yet to eat a single slice of apple pie this fall. It seems almost criminal having spent close to three decades eating Jessie’s apple pie for dessert most Sunday evenings in the months of September and October. Jessie crafted pie crust without really measuring the flour/sugar/salt, nor the butter/shortening which she cut in using a red handled pastry blender. She couldn’t be bothered ‘fussing’ with ice cubes, choosing instead to toss in cold, filtered water from the tap. The largest of the nesting Pyrex bowls was overfilled with apples to which she sprinkled in a handful of both white sugar and brown sugar, a notable pinch of cinnamon, a smidgen of nutmeg and just the slightest bit of thickener to capture runaway juices. The top crust had a magic carpet quality; hovering over the tower of apple wedges, floating downward and settling comfortably. Jessie folded top with bottom, tucking in errant apples without referring to the pinching of the dough between her fingers as crimping. No egg wash, no sanding sugar, just a generously filled 10” glass pie plate taking a snooze in the oven for an hour or so. If a fragrance could be both tart and sweet, the apples were just that, tangled up with spices and a squeeze of lemon. There was an aroma of warm caramel from the brown sugar, a toastiness where the crust turned deep golden around the edges. When the pie was almost ready, my father outfitted in cardigan and corduroy, would pass through the kitchen to make sure the freezer held a container of Welsh Farms vanilla ice cream. I don’t remember what we had for dinner. I do recall with utmost clarity the taste of that pie.
Apples were classified in Jessie’s kitchen as either eating or baking apples. Some were saucy, others were pie worthy. Organic? What was that? Secure apples from Sunday morning farmers markets with artisan anything? We did not. Pick-Your-Own, baskets of apples and jugs of local cider were available at farm stands dotted around NY and NJ. But just as many apples came from the A&P, and they were far from local.
Last weekend, in a quest for some tasty apples and cider, I learned a horrifying autumn truth. Maybe I knew this and had forgotten, but when I worked at the farm in Bucks County, crowds were plentiful, not frightening. I’ve been a little out of touch. The quaint farm stand and market has been gobbled up by hordes of folks squeezing into grab-your-own orchards, mega corn mazes and arena sized pumpkin patches. Way-too-long lines snake around snack bars offering roasted corn and cider hotdogs, small children cry and crumpled paper cups dot the landscape beneath the recycle bins. I wanted to cry, too. It was more carnival than country, primarily about traffic control, white-gloved policemen directing families in and out of the pastoral setting. Giant tractors transported folks to their Great Pumpkin destination, and throngs standing in line waited for apple cider doughnuts with a sense of frenzied anticipation.
Cider doughnuts were an everyday option at my former workplace, warm with a thick coating of cavity-inducing cinnamon sugar. I love the idea of a cider doughnut, but witnessing the batter parade through the hot grease on a daily basis scarred me for life. We also made hundreds of apple dumplings, of which I am still fond. There was a cider press too, and jugs of the sweet unfermented juice available in the Tabora market. Occasionally, a small group of rosy cheeked pre-schoolers would wander through clutching an apple from the field in one hand, a smiley face cookie with sprinkles in the other. Tractor rides and corn mazes were not in the offing.
Sibling Baker from Seattle tells me the apple/pumpkin mayhem stretches nationwide. Apparently there is a farm in Washington State that boasts a giant pumpkin slingshot. Just thinking about the potential in a slingshot situated in a field packed with cider doughnut fueled children is terrifying. And similar to baskets of apples, ripe with possibility.
Washington State triggers a Seattle fruit-in-crust memory for me from Macrina Bakery. I don’t want an entire pie for myself, just enough for let’s say, breakfast, or Saturday following eight hours of toil in the sugar and kosher salt mines. The ideal, dare I say, artisanal small batch of apple dumplings. I will not be rolling out the dough using a commercial sheeter that prepares enough for six dozen dumplings at a clip. (That remains in the bakery at Tabora Farms.) This will be hand crafted, with hazelnuts in the pastry and tart Montmorency cherries and brown sugar tucked inside the fruit. Since it’s for me, I’m going to cook down a good bit of the apple cider that I waited for none-too-patiently last Sunday, swirl in some heavy cream and make some cider caramel. No, it’s not exactly Jessie’s apple pie, but unless I get ahead of myself, I won’t have to wait in line.