I was recently going through some old family papers and found my grandmother’s diary from 1909. The diary wasn’t bound in a fancy book, it was simply 50 loose pages of paper that thankfully stayed in tact after more than 100 years.
Grandma was a farmer’s wife- she and Grandpa lived on a farm in Payne’s Point, Illinois near Rockford. She had a rather hard life, complaining of having to clean the thick grease off the kitchen walls and of the terrible headaches that made her bedridden for days on end. But Grandma played a very important role on her farm, preparing three meals a day for her family and the hungry farmhands who worked at threshing time.
One diary entry describes the amount of food she had to cook for the threshers:
August 11, 1909
Had threshers for dinner. Anna and I worked like dogs all day: 4 Dutch Apple pies, 4 cakes, doughnuts, bread, 4 chickens and 2 kettles of potatoes. Had lots of stuff left, all ready for supper. Had some terrible hot weather the last three weeks, everything dried up and dusty.
One thing that struck me in her food entries was the important role that pie played in her cooking. Pie was a way to provide comfort and happiness to her family and farmhands at the end of a long day- it also provided a feeling of community and a sense of being home. I can just picture my Grandma’s table over a hundred years ago: spread with chickens, corn cobs, bread, doughnuts, potatoes and vegetables. But it was the pie at the end of the meal that probably sent each person away with a little more happiness.
As Beth Howard says in her book Ms. American Pie:
There is always someone who could use a homemade pie to remind them that life still holds some hope, promise, and a little taste of happiness. And so I get busy baking …
In order to honor the spirit of my grandma’s love of Dutch Apple Pie, I am providing a recipe adapted from Beth Howard’s book. There is nothing better than Dutch Apple pie- if you like apple crisp or apple crumble, you’ll like this pie!
Here are a few helpful hints about making pie:
- pie is not complicated- if our grandmothers, pilgrims and pioneers could make pies (with no electric stoves or refrigerators available), we can too!
- don’t be afraid to ‘get you hands dirty’ when making pies- use your bare hands to mold the butter into the flour to make the dough.
- Be a little flexible and don’t worry about measuring things precisely. If your dough is a little too dry, then try adding a little more cold water, etc.
- For more tips on pie crust making, refer to my post on Pumpkin Bourbon Pecan Pie.
- 2 1/2 cups (300 g) white flour
- 11 tbsps (150 g) cold butter, cubed
- 1 1/2 eggs
- 2 - 3 tbsp. cold water
- 7 to 10 Granny Smith apples, peeled and sliced (number of apples depends on the size of your pie)
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 to 2 tsp cinnamon
- ¾ cup sugar
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- ¼ cup corn starch
- 1 cup (120 g) flour
- ½ cup (1 stick) butter, chilled and cut into marble-sized chunks
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ¼ cup pecans, crushed (optional)
- Place flour in large bowl. Add cold butter cubes and rub mixture with palms and finger tips until mixture resembles fine sand. Alternatively, place flour and butter in food processor bowl and pulse until mixture resembles texture of fine sand.
- Add 1 1/2 eggs and stir until mixture starts to form a ball. If required, add 2-3 tbsps. of ice cold water and mix until dough hangs together in firm ball shape.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead several times until it forms a firm ball. Wrap in plastic and place in fridge for at least 15 minutes. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin until it measures about 1.5 inches larger than the dimensions of your pie pan. Trim the dough using kitchen scissors so that 1 inch of dough overhangs the pie pan. Tuck the edges of the dough under at the edges and then form into fluted edges. Set the dough aside.
- Peel, core and slice the apples into pieces about 1 inch long. In a large bowl, combine the apples, salt, cinnamon, lemon juice and corn starch.
- In a separate bowl, rub the chilled butter, flour, brown sugar and crushed pecans (optional) together with your fingers until the texture resembles marbles. (If the butter becomes too soft, the mixture will become like a ‘melted, sticky glob.’ In this case, place the mixture in the fridge for a few minutes until the butter hardens again).
- Pour the apple filling into the prepared pie dough until it reaches the rim of the pie pan. Top with the crumble mixture. Bake for 10 minutes at 425 F (220 C) for 10 minutes, then reduce to 375 F (190 C) for another approximate 25 minutes, or until the apples turn soft when inserted with a fork or probe. If the crust starts to burn, cover with foil for the remainder of the baking time. Cool slightly and serve plain or with whipped cream or ice cream.
- The crushed pecans are optional but they do add a bit of added texture to the crumble topping.