Who’s ready for some pie?
I am! Thought I share a taste of old Americana with a special pie made from heirloom apples growing in my yard. Gravenstein, Spitzenburg, Antique Braeburn. They may not sound familiar as these lesser-known varieties just don’t make it into most national markets unfortunately, given their thin skins (not so good for traveling) and small crop yields. Even for us folks living here in Sonoma County, these historic trees are now far and few between—and the best place to source them is a local farmer’s market. Back in the 1930’s, there were close to 15,000 acres of planted apples orchards throughout the county.
The Gravenstein (or Gravs as they’re affectionately known locally) were planted by Russian Fur Traders back in 1811- so these truly have become this area’s darling of the apple world. They, along with plums/prunes dominated the agricultural scene for many decades. Over the years however, the orchards have slowly been replaced with vineyards, which makes these precious fruits even more sought-after. And to celebrate the preservation of these near extinct varieties, the quaint town of Sebastopol plays host the Gravenstein Apple Fair every August, now in its 42nd year. This huge celebration of all-things-apple is a local institution around here and has inspired me to get in the kitchen and bake-up this delicious Antique Apple Pie.
I used a my Mama Di’s famous pie crust which is SO good. You may remember it from my Best Peach Pie post……it’s my go-to crust recipe. It never fails to produce a fantastic pie- whether it be sweet or savory. I also love splitting these up into smaller, separate 4-inch pans. You won’t feel so guilty a whole pie that way right? Plus you can bake what you need now, then freeze the others for when the pie siren comes a calling.
For the apples, I chose to peel them since I needed to remove some worm holes anyway. These are organically grown so they do have a few blemishes and may not look perfect on the outside, but the flavor on the inside is wonderful. Juicy, tart and sweet all at the same time. I tend to like things less sweet anyway, so only a minimal amount of sugar was added. I also went easy on the baking spices too. The trick is to enhance the natural sugars, but not over-power with cinnamon or nutmeg. Keep the different apple notes as forward as possible. Tip: pack the pans FULL of apples. To the point where you think you’ve over-filled it. The apples will reduce in size as they cook, so a very full pan means you won’t be left with any gaps between the filling and crust.
Now that apples have started coming into season (yikes, that means Fall is on its way, noooo!!!!…) do make the effort to stop by a farmer’s market, or local apple orchard if you are lucky enough to have one near you. You’ll be amazed at how many varieties there are and how unique each one tastes. I’ll be volunteering at the Gravenstein Apple Fair this year, so if you live in the Bay Area, come on up and say hi, sample our county’s pride and joy, and take home a boxes of Gravs so you can bake your own apple pie!
Antique Apple Pie
yields one 2-crust pie (9 inch) or three 2-crust pies (4 inch) | Antique Apple Pie PDF
Mama Di’s Pie Crust
3 cups all-purpose flour (sifted)
1 cup vegetable shortening (original flavor Crisco is best)
3 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup ice water
pinch of fine sea salt
Put shortening into a bowl. Add salt, sugar, & flour. Blend until mixture looks like breadcrumbs (no big lumps). Add cold water a little at a time, stirring with a fork until you can work the dough with your hands. Different flours and humidity require differing amounts of water. You may not need to add all of it. Mix with your hands lightly until smooth, do not over work. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill dough in fridge for 1 hour. Roll out on floured surface to desired size/shape.
Apple Pie Filling
4 cups antique apples, peeled and sliced
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
2 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks
pinch of fine sea salt
1 egg for egg wash
sprinkle of finishing sugar (raw, demerara or turbinado)
Preheat oven to 375F. Remove pie crust from fridge and shape into desired shape/pan size. Peel and slice apples thinly into a large bowl. Add sugar, cinnamon, vanilla bean paste, butter and salt; mix gently to combine. Fill pie shells and top with remaining crust. Cut four small vent holes in top and brush with egg wash and finishing sugar before baking. Bake 9-inch pie for 35-40 minutes. Bake 4-inch pies for 25-30 minutes, until light golden brown. Serve warm with ice cream, whipped cream on simply on its own. Enjoy!
*antique or heirloom apples may be hard to find. Try a reputable roadside produce stand or gourmet market. A good substitute is a combination of equal parts Granny Smith (tart) and either modern Braeburn, Honey Crisp or Gala (sweet).
*I love the intense vanilla-flavor you get from a good vanilla bean paste. You can find it here if it’s not in your local stores. Or just use the seeds from a vanilla bean (split the bean in half and scrape out the seeds with the back of a knife). I don’t recommend using vanilla extract as you don’t want any extra liquid in the pie filling.