When I was growing up, my family didn't "do" dessert. I don't mean that we didn't eat it. We did, but dessert in our house meant one of two things: fresh fruit, or coffee-chip ice cream by the quart from Grunings, our local ice cream parlor.
There was no in-between.
And so, there was no pie, no making of pie crust, no learning how to criss-cross the lattice.
Eventually I learned to make a pie while working on an article about Little Brothers/Friends of the Elderly, an international community service organization that, among other programs, provides holiday meals to home-bound elders. It was November 1994, and I found myself in the kitchen with Rene Morrissette, the man in charge of getting hundreds of turkey dinners with all the fixings prepared, packed, and delivered by volunteers on Thanksgiving morning to more than 700 "old friends" in greater Boston.
A man who has to make 150 pies doesn't mess around with homemade crust, though he was a master baker who loved to do the from-scratch thing at home. No, Rene was a pragmatist who didn't want to sacrifice quality for quantity. He introduced me to Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crust, which General Mills introduced to the marketplace in the mid-1950s.
Pie crust transforms humble fillings into quiche, empanaditas, calzones and samosas, and refrigerated pie crust occasionally transforms me into a baker. With both Canada Day and July 4th approaching, I'm planning menus, grocery shopping, and thinking I'll make a dessert that's as American as apple pie.
Old-fashioned apple pie
The classic. Serves 8.
1 package Pillsbury pie crust (2 crusts)
7-8 large tart apples, such as Granny Smith (or a mix with Empire or Macoun)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3/4 cup sugar
1-1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 8 small pieces
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 Tbsp water)
Preheat oven to 425°F. Press one pie crust into a 9-inch glass pie pan. Peel, core, and thinly slice the apples, and toss in a large bowl with the lemon juice. In a separate bowl, combine sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and cornstarch, and stir into the apples. Spoon the apple mixture into the bottom crust, and dot generously with the butter. Paint the edge of the crust with a bit of the egg wash, or with water, and place the top crust over the apples. Press down lightly, and crimp the edges (make sure there’s a good seal). Using a sharp knife, make a small hole in the top of the pie. Brush the top crust with egg wash, then make 4-6 slits in the crust. Place on the middle rack of the oven and bake 40-45 minutes. Apples should be tender and the crust a deep golden brown. If the crust is becoming too brown during baking, cover the edges with an aluminum foil "collar." Let cool on a rack for 1-2 hours before slicing, to allow the juices to set. Serve at room temperature.
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