Is it all about the crust—or all about the apples?

It's not just the American in me that leads me to believe that the best kind of pie is apple pie, but I've been asking myself for years now: "Is it all about the crust—or all about the apples?" So when I joined up with the Historical Cooking Project, I was keen on finding how Le Livre de la Nouvelle Mariée might weigh in on this dilemma. The nouveau mariés of 1934, by the way, seemed to be eating a heck of a lot of dessert judging by this cookbook, and apple pie was, of course, featured first among pies.

There was but one crust recipe for all of the pies:

1 tasse de farine,
4 cuillerées à soup d'eau,
2 cuillerées à soupe combles de graisse - most of us don't have any of this, so butter was the next best thing
une pincée de sel

WHAAAT? Clearly, for the Nouvelle Mariée, the secret of apple pie is not in the crust. The other day I watched Martha Stewart (Yes, I like to watch Martha Stewart) make a single pie that contained over a pound of butter. How in the world would this crust even…happen, with merely 2 tablespoons? I did my best to follow this edict, but had to add more butter and more water just to make the crust form into a roll-able consistency. This recipe did have one neat trick however, which was to roll sugar into the crust on your final pass—a large crystal sugar would have been nice for this. In the end the crust was very flaky, but in a stiff kind of way. Nothing to write home about.

I have inherited my grandmother's pie crust recipe which calls for lots of butter and sour cream. It's delicious! It never fails! It never breaks! It's a real crowd pleaser! (Sorry, it's also a secret!) I've been making it for years, and it has really given me cause to think that apple pie/any pie is all about the crust. On the other hand, I grew up in Vermont, and many a fall afternoon I have cruised around with friends or family, sticking our heads out the car windows in search of the trees with the finest apples. Each year we keep tabs on all of the trees the eye can see from the main road, the dirt roads, the neighbors house, the friend's farmyard. We keep coming back to the best ones year after year and scramble up with a bucket or a bag. (When it's time to make cider though, it's even more fun:  just lay out a blanket or tarp, climb up the tree and start bouncing and shaking till everything ripe falls down). This fall, living in Verdun, the best pie I made was from apples I gathered from a tree in the park next to my house. I am pretty sure no one else thought you could actually eat them…

Needless to say, there is reason to believe it's all about the apples.

I was happy to find that the Nouvelle Mariée thought to treat her apples just like I likes 'em: moderate on the sugar, lots of lemon, including some zest, nutmeg rather than cinnamon, a little butter and a little salt. Putting lemon juice on your apples can really spark up a boring or sub par harvest since the best apples should be firm and tart so that their flavor pops out against the sugar content.

…So is it all about the crust or the apples? I was a little peeved when watching Martha bake her apple pie the other day because she simply said, in her deep, reassuring voice: "A good apple pie is all about the crust and the apples." I thought this was something of a cop out. And since the Nouvelle Mariée hasn't helped me get much closer to the truth, feel free to weigh in on this one folks.

(post by Bizzy Davis)

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