“Well hello to you, too,” I said. He folded his arms over his barrel stomach and watched.
Pappy was a known picky eater, so I was surprised to see him in my kitchen. I’d have thought our dinner the night before, chicken with avocados, would have scared him off. He inspected his surroundings, and scowled. Pappy didn’t like it when people, ‘put on the dog,’ as he called it, or lived in a showy way. I suppose he found my kitchen, with its bags of homemade pasta and tub of olives in brine a little too gourmet. But the apple pie I wanted to make that afternoon, I assured him, wouldn’t be fussy at all. It would be his simple apple pie.
“How did you make that pie again, Pappy?” I asked.
After Grandma died, Pappy learned to cook for himself. A mechanic, good with his hands, he picked up the skill easily. Once, when he baby-sat my sister and me, he organized a baking activity.
“Girls, we’re going to make apple pies today,” Pappy said after our parents had dropped us off. He led us to his kitchen. On the table, he had set up a bowl of peeled, sliced apples.
“Do you really know how to make apple pie?” I asked, doubting him some.
“Of course I do,” he said winking. “I know everything.”
We watched as his wrinkled hands crumbled the cubed butter into the flour. He sprinkled in some water, then kneaded the mixture into a craggy dough. Into the apples, he poured a few spoons of sugar, a dash of cinnamon and some flour. He pushed the bowl toward us and instructed us to stir.
“Last thing, most important thing,” he said, before putting the pies into the oven. “We have to cut holes in the dough to let the steam out. And you have to mark which pie is yours. Lauren, you’ll carve an LW, and Jackie you’ll do a JW.”
At the end of the day, we took our pies home. I ate a slice every day for a week, saving the LW for last. No pie had ever tasted so wonderful to me. I decided that I must try my best to remember what Pappy had showed me that day.
So, earlier in the week when Spyros came home with a bag of pink apples from Thessaloniki, courtesy of his youngest brother, my brain whispered “pie” and I thought of Pappy’s light crust and the LW. I used both red and green apples and just a smattering of sugar in my pie. I decided on an all-butter since Pappy considered margarine and shortening suspect.
The next day, I served the pie at lunch for dessert; we’d invited Spyros’ brother (provider of the apples) and his girlfriend. Pappy showed up for that, too, and took a seat at my desk where he could watch. My pie had browned more than his, I noted.
“Did you put shortening in that crust?” I asked. He looked at me but didn’t answer.
We cut forkfuls of pie and allowed the pastry to dissolve in our mouths. The thinly sliced apples had nearly collapsed into a sauce and provided a nice contrast to the dense pastry. When I looked up, Pappy had left. I felt disappointed to lose him again but had to smile to myself. It was a good apple pie.
Pappy’s Apple Pie
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup butter, cut into small cubes and chilled
½ teaspoon of salt
6-8 tablespoons ice water
1 ¾ pounds sweet apples (Gala, Golden, Fugi etc.) peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1 ¾ pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
¼ cup +2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 ½ tablespoon all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 tablespoon sugar
To make the crust, combine the flour and the salt together in a large bowl. Add the cubed butter and crumble into the flour with your fingers until coarse crumbs form. Sprinkle with 3 tablespoons of ice water and mix with a spoon until clumps begin to stick together. Add more water, a teaspoon at a time, until a ball forms. Knead slightly, then pat the dough into two equal disks and chill (this can be done a day ahead, just remove the disks from the refrigerator about 20 minutes prior to use).
Preheat the oven to 400oF (205oC). In a large bowl, combine the apples, sugar, lemon juice, vanilla and cinnamon; let stand about 15 minutes until juices form, then stir in the flour. On a floured surface, roll the disks into large circles about 11 inches wide. Transfer one of the disks to a 9-inch pie pan, greased with cooking spray. Spoon in the filling and sprinkle the top with the diced butter. Cover the filling with the second disk and crimp the edges shut. With a sharp knife, cut slits in the dough for steam release. Brush the top crust with the milk and sprinkle with a little sugar.
Place the pie in the oven and reduce the heat to 375oF (190oC) and bake until the pie is golden brown and the filling bubbles and has thickened, about 2 hours. Cover the pie crust with foil if it begins to brown too quickly. Cool for thirty minutes before serving.