Written by Rebecca Peters-Golden
This year, apple season was visited upon me with a vengeance. I mean, I enjoy apples as much as the next chap, and a list of famous apple incidents springs to mind easily: Eve’s forbidden fruit, Johnny Appleseed, William Tell, William S. Burroughs’ tragic drunken homage to William Tell. . . .
Still, even as the farmer’s market became a veritable apple paradise and every time I went to a friend’s house the cocktail of choice was whiskey and cider, I never really gave apples themselves much thought. This autumn, though, it seemed as if the planets aligned to make me more aware of apples than I’ve ever been.
It all started by chance when I met a farmer who mentioned that there is a nearly endless variety of apples found in nature, and that there’s no predicting what apple you’ll get, even if you plant the seed from an apple you know. Further, he explained, it’s extremely rare that one of these apples would naturally possess all the characteristics that we, as consumers, value in the fruit.
Now, I know next to nothing about plants, so I can’t say I understood this completely. Besides, we were driving to New York for a concert and it didn’t seem like the moment to dwell on my ignorance.
Not long after, I listened to Slate’s Table to Farm podcast about apples. In it, self-proclaimed “apple nerd” Amy Traverso, author of The Apple Lover’s Cookbook, clarified that due to their complex genes, apples—just like humans—produce apples that are not replicas but rather unique (and endlessly variable) combinations of their characteristics.
The apples that have been deemed marketable enough to cultivate and sell to the public—Gala or Granny Smith, say—must, therefore, be cloned from other Gala or Granny Smith apple trees. This is achieved by grafting, Traverso explained, which has been a practice among Greek farmers since 300 BCE.
After learning about the history and science of apples, I felt kind of . . . invested in apples in a way I’ve never been before. The endless supply of uniform small, mealy Red Delicious apples smothered in cling wrap in my middle school cafeteria or many an airport Starbucks have been recontextualized for me—not as an excess of nature, but as an intentional mass production, just like the greasy pizza and dry scones they’re sold next to.
I finished out the season by going apple picking at a local orchard with a friend. Unlike the display of exotic apples that confronted me at a fancy deli the week before or the segregated boxes of branded apples at the grocery store, the orchard’s bored teenage employee pointed to her left and said, “those are the sweet apples,” then pointed down the road to her right, and said, “the tart apples are over there.”
It was simple and true. The apples tasted different, but later, once they had all spilled in my trunk on our way back to Philadelphia, it was hard to tell the difference on sight.
My friend and I drank cider and ate hot apple cider donuts under the trees (though I must confess I kept glancing up at the picturesque tree, concerned about having an Isaac Newton moment that would result in the discovery of nothing more than what a concussion feels like).
We giggled our way through a huge corn maze, ever wary of creepy blond children and demonic scarecrows, and we talked about how curious our historical moment is—just far enough into the dominant paradigm of industrial mechanization that we’ve begun to look backward and romanticize the manual production that once tethered us to home even as it sustained us.
When I got home, laden with more apples than I could eat in a month, I made them into applesauce, apple cake, and apple crumble. What I really wanted to make, though, was apple pie—I mean, the universe had been steering me toward this moment for months; I needed to at least make the classic, right?
Problem: apple pie bores me. It’s definitely not even in my top ten favorite pies. So, I figured I’d dress it up with the least boring ingredient I could think of, the ingredient I’d happily add to any meal: cheese.
We eat apples with cheese all the time, I figured, so it seemed like a safe bet for pie. With trial and error, I got a pie that still tastes classic and simple, but adds honey and Brie to an extra flaky crust to elevate it.
The trick, I found, was in choosing a very creamy Brie that will melt easily rather than plasticize, and making a pie crust with half butter and half shortening so it’s light and flaky rather than dense and rich. I also made this pie with pears in the place of apples and loved it.
I recommend eating this pie hot out of the oven with a glass of white wine in front of Supernatural‘s Season 1 episode “Scarecrow”, which features a creepy orchard, a very old apple tree, and some amusing banter about apple pie.
- 1 recipe foolproof pie crust
- 2 pounds (about 5-6) apples, cored but left unpeeled and roughly chopped into 2-inch pieces--choose a mix of your favorite sweet and tart apples
- 1/4 cup (3 ounces; 85 grams) honey + extra honey to drizzle on the pie
- juice of half a lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
- 1/4 cup (2 1/8 ounces; 26 grams) packed light or dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 pinch cayenne pepper
- 1/2 pound (8 ounces; 227 grams) creamy Brie cheese , sliced thinly--I leave the white rind on, but you could remove it if it bothers you
- 1 egg white, beaten
- a sprinkle of granulated sugar
- Make the pie crust according to recipe instructions, dividing into 2 dough rounds. Chill the dough for at least 1 hour or overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a large mixing bowl, toss the apples with the honey, lemon juice, brown sugar, flour, coriander, cinnamon, and cayenne until well combined.
- Roll out 1 dough round on a floured surface and transfer into a 9-inch pie plate with rolling pin.
- Fill the crust with half of the apple filling, making sure to use a slotted spoon so you don't include too much liquid.
- Cover the filling with slices of Brie.
- Add the rest of the apple filling and cover that with slices of Brie. Make sure some of the Brie accidentally falls in your mouth to ensure quality. Note: if you want just a hint of cheese, leave some space between slices; if you want every bite to contain cheese, cover completely.
- Roll out the remaining dough and place on top of the filling, pinching the edges to seal the crust.
- Brush the top crust with a thin layer of egg white and sprinkle with sugar. Cut a few slits in your crust so the steam created by the apples can escape as they cook.
- Bake the pie for about 45 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. If the crust edges start to brown too deeply before the crust is golden, cover them with tinfoil.
- Remove the tinfoil and serve immediately, lightly drizzling each slice of pie with honey.