This recipe is neither seasonal nor out of season; it uses dried apples, which would have been the only apples available by late winter or early spring back in the day, and which give this pie its beguiling character. The dried apples are rehydrated with strong spirits; whiskey (bourbon is best but others will do), rum or applejack. The harsh heat of the alcohol disappears in the oven to yield a subtle note to the fruit. Once you have soaked the apples this is a fast and easy dish.
- about 6 oz dried apples
- 1 cup whiskey, rum or applejack
- ½ teaspoon allspice
- heaped ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon powdered ginger
- scant ½ teaspoon mace
- 1 sheet puff pastry (approx. 10” square): frozen is indistinguishable from your own
- about 1½ Tablespoons Demerara sugar (or to taste)
- Soak the apples and spices in the booze for at least 24 hours or until the fruit absorbs the liquid and softens.
- Thaw the pastry if necessary.
Preheat the oven to 415°.
- Raise the perimeter of the pastry sheet to form little walls about half an inch high and crimp them in a rough scalloped pattern.
- Lightly stab the base of the pastry sheet all over with the tines of a table fork.
- Spread the apple slices over the pastry sheet and sprinkle the sugar over them.
- Bake the pie for about 20-25 minutes or until the visible pastry turns golden.
-The original recipe is from a pamphlet called “Fanny Pierson Crane: HER RECIEPTS 1796; Confections, Savouries and Drams” by Amy Hatrak et al. It is a compilation of sixty recipes from a New Jersey kitchen manuscript and was published in 1972 by the Montclair Historical Society. The ‘recipe’ itself must have been a hurried jotting (augmented by modern references like the oven temperature) and is not particularly instructive:
“Soak dried apples in 1 cup whiskey or applejack. Add white or brown sugar to taste, but if preferred, honey or molasses can be used to sweeten. Add less cinnamon and more ginger with a dash of nutmeg. Place this mixture in a pastry shell, bake at 400° for 20-25 minutes. This pie has no top crust and will be flat in appearance.”
-As with much dried fruit, the quality and texture of dried apples varies considerably from brand to brand. Some require a lot more hydration than others, so you may need to increase the soaking time and even the amount of distillate specified. Some dried apples are not even cored, seeded or peeled. The more expensive organic varieties tend to be the least suitable for this recipe; they tend to be tougher and drier than ‘ordinary’ dried apples.
-We have found that for this recipe Bourbon works best but the choice of beverage is yours. Applejack is entirely authentic; an antecedent of Laird & Co., “America’s oldest family-run distillery,” started making applejack in New Jersey during 1698 and the Laird company itself began production in 1780.
-In addition to molasses or honey, golden syrup is another viable sweetener for this pie and of course is authentically British. It is available in New York at Myers of Keswick and elsewhere, including the ‘Irish’ sections of some supermarkets. Alternatively substitute ordinary brown sugar for the Demerara; the texture is not as good but it does work.
-Vary the amount and proportion of spice to suit your taste, substitute a good brand of mixed spice or replace the mace with nutmeg like Mrs. Crane; this is a versatile and forgiving recipe.
-As we have noted elsewhere, Pepperidge Farm is a good brand of frozen puff pastry that is widely available. Each sheet is just the right size for this recipe.
-Any piecrust recipe, and a nine inch pie pan, may be substituted for the freeform puff pastry if you prefer.
-If you are brave and choose shortcrust pastry, then mix ½ teaspoon of salt with one pound of flour and work ½ pound of cold unsalted butter into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture takes on a sandy texture and no dry flour remains in the bowl. Then gradually add just 2-3 ounces of ice water to bind the dough. It is best to handle the dough as little as possible so do not overwork it. Add a little more water if necessary to form the dough into a ball but try not to add much; if the dough becomes sticky, the crust will turn out brittle. It helps to refrigerate the dough (wrapped in plastic) before rolling it out to line the pan.
-Mrs. Crane’s manuscript is interesting for a number of reasons, not least its steadfast adherence to British foodways. A recipe for green beans makes lavish use of mace; she cooks with ingredients like gooseberries, greengages and tansy that have all but disappeared from the American culinary consciousness; there are savory puddings and fruit fools. In addition, and unlike most contemporary cooking manuscripts, it offers virtually no concession to conditions in North America. There is only one reference to squash (which anyway is similar to pumpkin, or ‘pompion,’ an ingredient already familiar to British cooks), and only one reference to corn or cornmeal (it is for bread), which had been American staples for over a century by 1796.
-A somewhat gruesome if realistic contemporary rhyme accompanies the recipe: “and there they hung them for the flies/‘til mother turned them into pies.”