Crossing Apple Country Now


Following the latest recipe found in Porterfield’s Dining by Rail, we’re aboard a restaurant car of the Northern Pacific line, just having passed through Wenatchee, Washington, which proclaims itself, “The Apple Capital of the World.”  Civic pride (boastfulness?) aside, people in these parts certainly know their apples, as demonstrates the sweet slice of golden flakiness about to be brought from the galley.

Indeed, Wenatchee Apple Pie soon became one of the Northern Pacific Railroad’s signature menu items.  It simultaneously promotes the Northwest’s leading crop, as well as the rail chefs’ talents, and it earns the travelers’ acclaim.    Savor just one piece of the buttery, sweetly tangy juiciness and you’ll know why.  Though it’s hardly possible to limit this indulgence to just one bite.

Not only did the line’s cooks develop the pastry, but they also came up with a recipe for a light, buttery crust which soon was copied aboard trains everywhere.  The other secret is in using two types of apples, yielding a subtle contrast in. and complexity of, flavors.  Today’s selections were Gala and Granny Smith varieties, as shown by the peelings:Apple Peels Would you look at this guy, posting pictures of scraps?  Maybe, but what luscious remainders.

Once peeled, the apples are combined with suitable quantities of sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon and, in a personal touch, nutmeg, then are piled into the waiting crust.  You’ll want to mound the fruit, as it reduces a bit while baking, and you want a pie that’s nice and full of apple lusciousness, obviously:

Applw Pie, UnbakedThat’s right, stack ’em high!

The aroma drifting from the oven as the pie bakes is divine, nearly as enticing as is the first bite.  Nearly, but not quite.  When in Rome, or in Wenatchee…

*****

Wenatchee Apple Pie

For the Dessert Pie Crust (*1)

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • 2 teaspoons milk
  • 2 teaspoons heavy cream
  • 1 cup ice water (*2)

In a large bowl, mix together with a fork the flour, sugar and salt.  Using a pastry tool (not sure if that’s what it’s called – see the picture below), cut in the shortening until the mixture has a pea-like texture.Dough Cutter

Add the milk, melted butter and cream.  Cut them in with the pastry tool until the mixture is of an even consistency.  Gradually pour in the ice water, mixing it in with your hands (Really.  There’s no better tool for the job!) When the dough is cohesive, turn it out onto a lightly-floured surface and knead it briefly. (*3)

Divide the dough into two spheres of equal size.  Wrap each with plastic wrap and refrigerate them while you prepare the apples (providing, of course, you’re moving on to the next recipe and making apple pie).

NOTES:

1 – I’ve doubled all the quantities and modified the instructions accordingly.  In preparing the original recipe, I realized there was only enough dough for one crust.  You’ll need two.  Avoid the same mistake I made.

2 – Actually, a little over a cup works best.  I used 1-and-1/4 cups.

3 – Try to keep the kneading/rolling to a minimum, as the more you “work” the dough, the tougher in becomes.  Instead, “soft” and “flaky” are the operative words here.

*****

For the pie:

  • 6 large apples (*4)
  • 1-and-1/2 cups sugar
  • juice of 1 lemon (*5)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 teaspoon ground nutmeg, optional (*6)
  • dessert pie dough (see above)

Place a cookie sheet on the oven’s lowest rack, to catch any juices the pie spills.  Preheat the oven to 450°.  On a lightly-floured surface and using a floured rolling pin, roll one of the refrigerated spheres of dough into a circle about a quarter-inch thick, and four inches wider than the pie plate you intend to use.  Lay the dough in the pie pate and smooth it so it adheres to the bottom and to the sides.  An inch or so of dough still will hang over the edge. This is fine.

Core and peel the apples, then wedge them vertically into pieces half an inch thick.  Lay these on the crust in the pie plate, mounding the center, if possible, to about two inches higher than the outer edge.  Douse the apples with lemon juice, then sprinkle on cinnamon and nutmeg (if using).

Remove the second ball of dough from the fridge and, similar to the lower crust, roll it on a lightly-floured surface into a round 1/4-inch thick and two inches wider than the pie plate.  Cut small slits at random points over the surface to allow steam to escape when cooking.

Lay upper crust over the apples and “mate” it with the lower crust, crimping the perimeter to seal the pie and doing what you will with the leftover dough. (*7)

Place in oven, on the center rack, for 15 minutes, then reduce temperature to 350° and cook for about 45 minutes more, until the crust is golden brown.  Let cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes if you want to serve it warm, for an hour or more if you prefer room temperature.

NOTES:

4 – Using two different kinds of apples increases the flavor’s depth and sophistication.  Granny Smith apples are the classic pie apples and are perfect for the “tart” option, whereas something sweeter, such as Gala, Rome or McIntosh rounds out the taste nicely.

5 – A Meyer lemon is a great choice, as it has the requisite acid to slow the apples from browning, yet its mild tangerine-lemon profile compliments the other ingredients.

6 – Not in the original recipe, but a toss or two of nutmeg adds a deliciously intriguing note

7 – My late grandmother made the world’s best apple pies.  By far.  Sorry other grandmothers, but it’s true.  She had a great way of using up the extra dough (the Depression inspired such creativity) – she made it into a rectangle as thick as the pie crust and twice as long as it was wide.

On top she sprinkled a mixture of cinnamon and sugar, and perhaps a dab or two of butter, then rolled it tightly along the long end.  This was placed, seam side down, on a piece of aluminum foil and both joined the pie in the oven about halfway trough cooking (i.e., after about half an hour).

A great snack for grandchildren (and non-grandchildren) too bedazzled by the pie’s aroma to wait until after dinner.

19 thoughts on “Crossing Apple Country Now

  1. Ah, another train recipe. I rather like trains, though I’ve never been on one (yet), and I can just imagine eating this while watching the scenery go by and listening to the rattle of the carriage.

    Very clever of your grandmother to use the excess dough that way. What better cause for it than staving off the packs of eager children with something sweet and scrumptious?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The prospect thrills me too, Rachel. Obviously. I promise I won’t overdo it, though! This will be the last train recipe…well, for a while, at least.

      On the way to the parents’ house (about half an hour away), the road at one point comes within sight of train tracks. One evening last winter, just as the sun started setting and the snow started squalling, the overnight train to Chicago clacked by on it way west. As I glimpsed those in the dining car, my mind wandered.

      Majorly so. Though surface functions kept my car on the road, the rest of the mind was in dreamland. Consequently, months later, came four or five train recipes. Yes, I was (am) a man obsessed.

      Ah yes, Grandma’s cinnamon pastries! Definitely great for staving off the packs (great turn of phrase, Rachel!) of children. No matter how “children” is defined – us grandchildren, my grandmother’s children (Mom and her brother and sister – and their spouses), or Grandpa. All of us. In fact, I suspect the only reason Grandma didn’t sneak a bite or two herself is that there always were, like six other people in the kitchen at any given time.

      Thanks for the revelry, Rachel. Though it’s been quite a while, it took me back to Christmas at my grandparents’ house (back before they retired to Florida), packed with family. Though, alas, a few of those people are gone now, their memories are eternal. Much obliged, Rachel!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha! Well, I don’t mind. Dream to your heart’s content. Just don’t crash, yeah?

        Oh, I can just picture that arena — some would call it a kitchen — so overrun. My dad will often be the first to start chomping at the bit for this or that baked goody fresh from the oven. And how quickly the chorus grows.

        Delighted to bring up a pleasant memory, Keith; though my condolences for those no longer here.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It really is a wonder those intense daydreams haven’t ended in catastrophe, as that brain takes all the “me time” it needs. I’m sure you can relate, Rachel. Thank God for that reptilian 10% that covers basic functions like heartbeat, respiration…and driving, while the rest of the mind is elsewhere.

        Don’t want to give you the impression everyone in Grandma’s kitchen was mooching. The adults present were there to help with meal prep, and to cajole THEIR children to do something too. After all, there going to be, like, 38 trillion people sitting down to eat.

        The internal cynic wonders, though, how much of that diligence was expended with a view to being offered an oven-fresh treat. “Oh Mom, I really shouldn’t….”

        We both know how that particular story ends.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Tamara!

      Though, if you’re going to challenge a scale’s capacity, indulging in apple pies probably is one of the most enjoyable ways of doing so.

      Besides, just dreaming about apple pies has to burn calories too, right? It might be, even, an effective way of losing weight. I think we should try it.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, thank you, Crystal! What a special observation.

      You know, memories of people like Grandma and Dad bring much more warmth now, than they do sadness. In fact, “nostalgia” probably is the best word for it. Profound fondness, though I still miss both of them.

      However, that feeling doesn’t diminish the happiness, it enhances it. You may, or may not, be to that point yet in your own journey, but rest assured, it is coming.

      Doesn’t hurt, either, so many happy moments with Grandma have to do with food. Thus, for this week’s offering, I may have been geeking out about trains part-time, but happy recollections were on the front burner full-time.

      Like

  2. Applause for the addition of nutmeg. Sounds delicious.

    Growing up my mom made the cinnamon and sugar pie dough snacks as well. I almost liked that as much as any pie we would make. Back then we made pie dough often but of course these days it’s just so much easier to buy it already made. Homemade is definitely still the best though. Always is.

    I love the idea of two kinds of apples. Granny Smith apples are quite tart but I once made apple pie from galas alone and I ended up missing that bit of tartness.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, JoAnn!

      That’s the idea, sweet and tart, fueling the dynamic. Especially as the apples are piled mile-high. There’s gotta be a whole orchard in there.

      It’s cool, though it hardly is surprising, your family has a dough snack tradition as well. Grandma likely learned it from her mother, back when she first learned to make pies back in the ’20s. Actually, though, it probably goes back much farther than that, at least to when cinnamon first became affordable back in the 1700s.

      My grandmother in Pennsylvania and your mother in Idaho, doing the exact same thing. Yep, it all adds up.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I can’t bestow enough praise to the first person who had the idea of combining cinnamon and sugar. Going further to use it on such things as toast and baked goods should be included amongst the significant cornerstones of modern society. This prompted me to seek out cinnamon sugar history. Moderately interesting.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. More than “moderately” so, I’d reckon, JoAnn. Particularly as the combo presents a fully-immersive lesson, examples consumed with enthusiasm. “Yes, yes, I can taste it now! O…M…G!”

        My own research took me to a YouTube video about cinnamon’s history. After all, the internet never would mislead us, would it? Anyway, cinnamon was exceptionally rare in millennia past. Consequently, the Romans valued a mere ounce at five or six times what a common laborer earned in a year. More precious than gold? You don’t need to convince us, Romans!

        Best of all, cinnamon is healthy. Approaching “superfood” levels of healthiness, actually. Those cinnamon pastries taught us early “healthy” and “delicious” often coincide. Suitably inspired, we became foodies.

        In fact, that may be what unites all of us. Figure all foodies have some kind of cinnamon pastry in their pasts, huh?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. That’s so very interesting. Cinnamon is indeed healthy. I’m glad you brought that up. I’ve said it before and will continue saying it, I’m a firm believer that unhealthy and healthy can cancel each other out. For instance, healthy cinnamon cancels out the not so healthy aspects of the sugar. Makes sense to me! Logical thinking is completely uncalled for in some cases.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Absolutely, JoAnn. Were we good lab mice, we’d exist on nothing more than water and kale.

        There’s so much more to life, though, than just existing. What are the words without melody? Eating good (i.e., healthy) allows us to eat well. If we take care of our broccoli now, dessert awaits.

        Part of my job, of course, is to use imagination to encourage broccoli’s artistry. Then we have not one treat, but two.

        Like

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