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John Golden

John Golden writes about food and has a highly opinionated blog, The Golden Dish.

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Posted: October 8, 2014

Beyond apples: Glory be the crabapple pie–an heirloom recipe

If you’ve never had crabapple pie you’re in for a taste treat as distinctive as lemony sweet apple pie that packs walloping good flavor.

Written by: John Golden

As American as crabapple pie?

Well, hardly, since this fruit doesn’t’ enjoy the same popularity as its larger cousin, the apple.  This is a shame because crabapples are a sturdy little fruit with a distinctive taste–as tart as a lemon but once sweetened with sugar they’re ethereally sweet and  lend great taste to pies, jams, chutneys and sauces.

Crabapples, considered a wild apple, grow well in our region; box of crabapples at the farmer's market

Crabapples, considered a wild apple, grow well in our region; crate of crabapples at the farmer’s market

Crabapples are a little difficult to work with because they’re so small.  They generally don’t need peeling; if you did, using the standard peeler might result in some nicked fingers. Actually it’s preferable to leave the skins on because they’re pectin rich and act as a natural thickener.

Crabapples are at farmers’ markets now.  I picked up several pounds of them at Uncle’s Farm Stand owned by Mike Farrell, the Hollis farmer.  His second in command is Keith Boyle who has for several years been the source for me of wonderful family recipes that I’ve shared here.  And last week he finally brought me the recipe for crabapple pie from his 90-year-old grandmother, Gladys Gilbert of Rumford, known for her old-fashioned farm cooking.  I made the pie earlier this week and followed it exactly as written.  It worked out perfectly—one helluva good pie!

One of the most distinctively different tasting slice of pie you'll ever have

One of the most distinctively different tasting slice of pie you’ll ever have

The ingredients are fairly simple: crabapples, sugar, flour and butter.  I noticed, however, that it didn’t call for the usual apple pie spices of cinnamon and nutmeg.  I was tempted to add them but decided to make the pie without alternation.

Some of the directions were a little vague, however, and I altered it slightly where needed.  Preparing the fruit is somewhat time consuming because you need a lot of crabapples to yield 6 cups. Count on 2 1/2 to 3 pounds or about 30 crabapples.

The crabapples should be cored, pitted and quartered, but this is messy business because of their size.  Here’s how I handled it: Cut the apples in half and cut one of the halves in half again.  The other half is cut in half  by cutting around the core and seeds—basically carving the apple away from the core.   You could use an apple corer but the fruit would fall apart.

Because the raw crabapples are so hard, they’re steamed for several minutes before using.  I thought this was an interesting step, and in my research I found this to be consistent in other recipes.

After steaming, put the crabapples in a strainer to cool before handling

After steaming, put the crabapples in a strainer to cool before handling

One final flavor feature in the pie is this: According to Keith, his grandmother’s secret ingredient is brown sugar sprinkled over the crabapple mixture once it’s assembled in the pie shell.

The last touch is to sprinkle the top with brown sugar

The last touch is to sprinkle the top with brown sugar

I served it with peach ice cream, which I had made the other day to use up the last of my peach stash.  It’s an interesting match for the pie, but I think a good vanilla ice cream works better.

Crabapple pie

Crabapple pie

Gladys Gilbert’s Crabapple Pie

Servings: 6 to 8

Pastry dough for 2-crust pie (see Note 2)

6 cups crabapples, cut in quarters (see cooking notes above), unpeeled

1 cup sugar

1 tablespoon flour

1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 1/2 tablespoons butter

1/ 4 (heaping) cup light-brown sugar

Milk and sugar for glazing

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Prepare the bottom crust and affix in a 9-inch pie dish.  Refrigerate until needed.

Meanwhile prepare a steamer by putting a steaming rack into a large pot filled with several inches of water and bring to the boil.  Add the apples, cover and steam for 3 minutes.  Remove to a strainer and let cool for another 3 minutes.

Prepare the apples by cutting in quarters (see headnote), removing seeds, core and stem.  You will need 6 cups, about 2 1/2 pounds or about 30 crabapples. Put into a large mixing bowl and mix with the white sugar, butter, flour and lemon juice, combining with your hands.

Transfer to the prepared shell, mounding up the apples.  Sprinkle the top with the light-brown sugar. Roll out the second crust and affix over the top, making a decorative edge and cut four small slits in the dough.  Brush the pastry lightly with milk and optionally sprinkle the top with sugar (the original recipe does not call for this).

Put the pie on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment (to catch drippings) and bake for 15 minutes at 450 degrees.  Lower the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for at least 45 minutes, (rotating the pan halfway through) or until the juices inside are bubbling and the crust is a rich golden brown (see Note 1).  Serve warm with ice cream.

Note 1: After 45 minutes the juices were not bubbling much so I raised the heat to 375 degrees and turned on the convection and continued to bake for about 7 minutes longer until the juices were bubbling well inside the pie.  You want to make sure the apples are cooked and softened and a period of simmering in their juices will accomplish this.  If the crust gets too dark, cover the pie loosely with foil.  All ovens are different so baking time is approximate.

Note 2: My flaky pastry dough recipe, which I’ve posted often, is a wonderful one to use  for pies.  It’s basically a butter dough enriched with freshly rendered lard, which adds incredible flakiness to the crust.  Using a food processor put in 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I use southern soft-wheat flour, available from specialty sources), pinch salt and heaping teaspoon sugar.  Pulse a few times to combine.  Add 2 sticks unsalted or lightly salted butter, cubed and chilled, and 4 tablespoons lard, cubed and chilled.  Pulse 10 times until you have small and slightly larger pieces of fat and the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Pulsing, add gradually 1/2 cup of ice water until the mixture just begins to pull away from the bowl.  It should be slightly moist to the touch.  Turn out onto a lightly floured board, knead gently once or twice and form into 2 disks, wrapped in plastic and chilled for at least 1 hour before rolling out.

Next week: My Apple Brown Betty.  This was originally scheduled to appear this week but when I received the crabapple pie recipe, I featured that instead.

Local ingredients used

Crabapples, Uncle’s Farm Stand, Hollis, at Portland Farmer’s Market

Butter, Cabot 83 percent European style butter

Milk, Straw Farm

Lard, Rosemont Market

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