I am rigid. Well, at least I used to be. As I’ve been teaching myself how to cook, I have found myself unwind into a more fluid person in many ways. But let me back up a bit.
When I was learning how to cook and to bake I was always in awe of my sister’s talents. She can whip together a cake or a delicious goulash without tending to a single recipe for its guidance. I was never this lucky. In fact, when I first left home she gave me the book How to Cook Anything, which included tips in boiling an egg. Now, I’ve gotten much better since then, but the admiration for her style still remains.
I’ve always noticed that any meal that is delicious and memorable long after I’ve eaten it, is one made with estimations and approximations. I’m talking about the recipes my grandmother used to make by putting her fingers together to add the perfect dash of salt into a soup. Or how my mom would add the right size pat of butter to fry the most delicious egg sandwich. I also noticed that after I’d become comfortable making certain recipes, I would no longer need to follow along and could trust my gut to guide me.
My favorite thing to make is an authentic apple pie. There’s nothing better than that cooled savory jelly. Especially when licking it off a rubber spatula after having tossed it into a shell. It took me many years in making this pie to finally rest where it sits now. It’s an adaptation of a recipe I found online. But after having made it for so long, I no longer search for the recommended type of apple. I’ve added apple cider vinegar to coax the flavor into the cinnamon sauce while it cools.
In the time it’s taken me to make this recipe the first time and to bake it just from memory I have changed. I no longer need a book to teach me how to boil an egg—or to accept when a friend is always late because that’s just who they are. By removing the exact measurements in a meal, I’ve adopted a similar lifestyle with grace. It’s ok if I don’t show up exactly five minutes early, or go to bed at exactly 10 o’clock at night. It’s perfectly acceptable to have family ask to pop in with ten minutes notice. There’s give. And that has truly flexed me in ways I never knew before.
I can bend or stand firm, and expand or contract. I have such a fullness in my heart when my nephew looks me in the eyes and smiles wide. I no longer sense guilt when I choose to leave an outing deemed too early in the evening by someone else. It has been transformative, kind of like eating a piece of my apple pie, warm or cold, if I can say so myself.
In fact, I’ve noticed in time that cooking and baking can teach a person a lot about life if you listen close enough. Standing over a simmering pot of water waiting for the pasta to take a dive is a time to sit and reflect on the day. Even if all you want to do is for dinner to be done and over already. The time it takes to make a meal is often needed to work through what’s reeling you, at least it is for me. Like my commute, it forces me to relax, because there’s nothing else to do but wait. Patience. Something I still have to work on even today. And probably forever.
I guess the point I’m trying to make it is that approximations are good for life, and often feel like more guidance than a recipe or book could ever give. It has allowed me to slow down and to go with the flow, something I used to never be good at—just ask my husband. Today I’m perfectly content with spontaneous travel and a liquid like lifestyle. It makes every day a little bit different than the day before.
Today I’m sharing my apple pie recipe, in hopes that maybe someone will make it and learn the same sense of flexibility in life that it taught me. It’s a no fuss recipe, without many steps and a touch of sweet. I might share my pie crust recipe another day. But know this pie is great with pre-made store-bought crust in a pinch, as well. Enjoy!
- Melt the butter over medium-high heat in a sauté pan or small stockpot large enough to contain all the apples. Add the apples to the pot and stir to coat the pieces, stir occasionally. While they do the work they're meant to, whisk together your spices and salt; add the ¾ cup of sugar. Slowly sprinkle over your apples to combine. Lower the heat and continue cooking until the apples have begun to soften, usually about 5-6 minutes.
- Once the fruit has begun to break down, sprinkle the flour and cornstarch over them and cook while stirring another 4 to 5 minutes. I like to add each separately with a minute in between.
- Remove the pan from the heat and add the apple cider vinegar. Give the fruit one more solid stir, then scrape it onto a cookie sheet and allow to cool completely. To speed up the cooling time, I like to pop it into the fridge while I prepare my dough for the oven.
- While the filling cools, place a large baking sheet into the oven on the middle rack and preheat to 425. Make your dough, or if using some from the store, remove a disc and roll it smooth on your countertop with a light dusting of flour. Roll it until it is about a foot wide then fit the crust into a 9-inch pie dish. If you wish, trim it to have a ½" overhang, then place the plate, dough and all, into the freezer. Roll the remaining dough until it is about 10" wide. If you're feeling especially fancy, cut a few strips of lattice, then using cookie cutters make shapes to place on top.
Remove the pie crust from the freezer and your filling from the fridge. Scrape the filling into the pie and once it's all made its way in, take a lick of the spatula. This is important.
Cover the filling with your remaining dough and design as you wish, then press the edges together to form a solid crust. Keep a close eye on holes, you don't want any of that delicious filling you just tasted to seep out do you? If you choose to just use the disc of dough without a design, use a knife to cut a few steam vents into the top of the crust.
Whip the egg together and lightly brush the crust, topping with the reserved tablespoon of sugar.
Put your pie on the baking sheet in the oven for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375 for another 30-40 minutes more. You'll know it's done when the smell becomes to great to bare, the filling can be seen bubbling, and the crust is a beautiful golden brown.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool on the windowsill or stovetop for two hours, or for as long as you can keep yourself away. Serve with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, especially good when the pie is still warm.