My neighbor, Karen, makes the best apple pie in the world. In the fall, I find there’s nothing better than the scent of burning leaves, a Redmen home game and a warm slice of that heavenly apple pie.
When I was little, I would go with my father to pick pumpkins before Halloween at the orchard near our house. Our family loves the apples there, especially the crisp Macintosh. They’re the kind you’ll only find if you know where to look – and Douse is it. It’s as if they pick them from the tree and put them in the bag right before you drive in. They are juicy, tart and every bite makes the same sharp crunching sound. They mill cider, and an assortment of other fall favorites like jams, oatmeal cookies, and squashes, but it is the apple there that reigns supreme.
Everyone says winter is the time for comfort foods, but I think that time comes earlier for me. I grew up in the same house my dad lived in as a kid. We were close with our next door neighbors and often exchanged sugar, eggs and other kitchen items when they were needed. We also shared apple pie.
Well, they shared pie with us. We’d hold up our side of the bargain too, especially around the late September holidays when Jewish foods ran rampant at our house and there were simply too many latkees to eat by ourselves. Yet for me, the greatest treat of all was Karen’s apple pie.
I truly believe that great pies involve a kind of artistic hand, one that knows how to curve the ends together so smoothly that you wonder if the dough did it on its own. You’ll understand why then that the first pie crust I saw at the grocery store left me quite perplexed – it was flat and unformed, nothing like the domed edges of Karen’s pies. Her pies were artisans themselves, browned and light, the perfect compliments to the sweet, sugared apples inside.
The thing about Karen’s pies was not only the dough and the luscious interior, but the topping. Apple crisp met apple pie – oats, brown sugar, and salt – in a forged, crumbly, and crunchy mess of apple-lee perfection.
Nowadays, I like grilled pork tenderloin with baked apples, and homemade applesauce. But apples are also a fruit that have the power to stand alone. For me, though, Karen’s apple pie is the mark of my childhood. It is the agent that brought our families together, and for years to come, will be the standard to which I hold all other pies to reach.