Friday, December 13, 2013

Apple pie

Sometimes you get old recipes right the first time: you decipher the flowery language, you make the right substitutions, you determine the correct proportions. And sometimes, well, you don't.

This is a story of when I got it wrong.

We begin in apple season. I've been buying apples nonstop at the farmers' market every Saturday, and sometimes my friend asks me to pick up her farm share for the week and I wind up with a dozen more apples besides. A few weeks ago, I found myself with more apples than I knew what to do with. So I decided to make a pie. Easy, right?

I turn to my newest cookbook, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy by Mrs. Hannah Glasse, originally published in 1747 and updated in 1805. Hot off the presses! Verbatim, here is what she tells me about how to make apple pie:
"Make a good puff paste crust, lay some round the sides of the dish, pare and quarter apples, and take out the cores, lay a row of apples [t]hick, throw in half the sugar you design for your pie, mince a little lemon peel fine, throw over, and squeeze a little lemon over them, then a few cloves, here and there one, then the rest of your apples, and the rest of your sugar. You must sweeten to your palate, and squeeze a little more lemon. Boil the peeling of the apples and the cores in some fair water, with a blade of mace, till it is very good; strain it, and boil the syrup with a little sugar, till there is but very little and good, pour it into your pie, put on your upper-crust and bake it. You may put in a little quince or marmalade, if you please."
This raises several--okay, many--questions. First, I need to find that puff paste recipe. Second, how many apples? What kind? I suppose I can wing the seasonings, but really, how much sugar should I design for my pie? (And why on earth is this recipe so poetic?)

The recipe for puff paste is no help:
"Take a quarter of a peck of flour, rub in a pound of butter very fine, make it up in a light paste with cold water, just stiff enough to work it up; then roll it out about as thick as a crown-piece, put a layer of butter all over, sprinkle on a little flour, double it up and roll it out again; double it, and roll it out seven or eight times; then it is fit for all sorts of pies and tarts that require a puff-paste."
Upon doing a bit of research, I discover that a quarter of a peck of flour is 2 dry quarts of flour, or 8 cups. This tells me several things: First, this will make WAY more puff paste than I possibly need for one pie. Second, this is probably because most women make a lot of pies and tarts at once (on baking day, for example), unlike our silly modern methods of making one pie at a time when we want it. Third, I need to know how thick a crown-piece is.

Happily, I have some help in the form of Fresh from the Past, a collection of modernized recipes from 18th-century London. The book contains recipes very similar to Mrs. Glasse's puff paste and apple pie, so I set to a makeshift sort of preparation, combining and substituting where I see fit. For example, I design 1/4 cup and 2/3 cup sugar for my pie (divided for that layered effect) as recommended by the modern book. The most troubling part is where I make a syrup of the apple peels, water, and sugar. Most likely this is meant to extract some of the pectin to help the pie gel, but my syrup winds up more watery than pectin-y. Nevertheless, I pour it over the apples, cover the whole thing with a top crust, and bake. Thanks to the mace and cloves, the pie smells heavenly.

And it tastes heavenly, too. The problem? The watery syrup turns the whole dish into pie soup. It never gels, perhaps too because I used a mixture of sweet and tart apples rather than sticking entirely to tart Granny Smiths.

Josh makes a lot of fun of the pie, and I vow to redeem myself later with a new pie. (It's semi-successful.) And I settle down to enjoy the tasty pie soup served over Greek yogurt, which I highly recommend should this happen to you.