Summer Magic - Easy as Pie!

Whoever says to you, “It’s as easy as pie!” means apple pie; specifically with a crumble top and a frozen, pre-made bottom crust. It’s the easiest pie to make and can be adjusted to adapt to a number of food allergies. 

I bake pie because its ancient magic appeals to me and because, in our house, it’s not at all unusual for fruit to get past its prime before I notice it. Five or six unattractively soft apples make an awesome apple pie. 

I pick up frozen, pre-made pie crusts at the store every time I think of it, so I tend to have a couple in the freezer when the mood, or fruit over-ripeness, strikes. Be sure and check the ingredients at the store, so you know you have what you need. Part of the simplicity of the recipe for me is not having to go back to the store. 

And, in the summertime, I’m sure to have a bottle of organic lemon concentrate in the refrigerator because the only thing simpler than this apple pie recipe, is making ice cold lemonade (mix equal parts lemon concentrate and sugar until you have a syrup, add per taste to cold filtered water).

I have an old Better Homes and Gardens cookbook from the eighties; the kind that is a three ring binder and whose inside cover is filled with super-handy measurement information. Yes, I also have just about every magical cookbook on the market, but the basics are very good to have on hand. 

My circle is currently gluten free and non-dairy; two challenges easily met by this simple recipe. 

First I safely light a cooking candle, close enough for me to see from time to time as I work, but far enough away from hot surfaces and the center of my mixing to not be distracting or dangerous. Lately I’ve been using candles in glass, in case I lose track of them and forget to blow them out. 

The candle reminds me that cooking is ancient magic, and that’s what I’m putting into the work. 

I wash the five or six apples and peel them. The recipe calls for six cups. I think of that as six apples, but generally five would do for my shallow nine inch pie crusts. 

I love working with apples. While they have a sacred magic all of their own; the retreat of the mad-woman, the shelter of the hind; they are also cousins to the rose and therefore have that sacred five-petaled magic at their center. It’s as though the love-magic of the rose created a beautiful and nurturing fruit out of its own generous longing. 

The peels go right into the compost pile. Have you ever used the compost blessing out of the Witch in the Kitchen cookbook by Cait Johnson? It’s extra awesome if you’re raising a pagan child!

I recently bought one of those apple slicer-corer tools, so, confessedly, that’s what drove me to make the pie this hot weekend. I do love a gadget! My experience with it was that it is an excellent corer, but I picked up those eight, big chunks of apple and dropped them right into my old food processor for extra thin slicing. The advantage of this was that I ended up with only a few long thin slices, but a lot of little thin slices and, later on, that makes for easier pie slicing. 

The trick to this type of apple pie recipe is that the fruit filling doesn’t hold the spices, the crumble top does and, for some reason, that makes it just right. 

But back to the simple part: toss those slices of apple into a comfortable mixing bowl while you prepare the dry mix for them. If you figure out how to do this with honey, let me know, but I follow the recipe using 1/2 cup of sugar and 2 tablespoons of flour; in my case, rice flour. This is going to give the filling it’s sweetness, along with a little body for the syrup that results. 

Mix that together and then put it over the apples, tossing them to coat. 

Then, break out that bottle of lemon juice concentrate. The recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, I use 3 tablespoons of that concentrate. The lemon juice is to the fruit what salt is to meat, it brings out the flavor. Plus, since I tend to use sweet apples, rather than tart cooking apples, it helps balance that flavor. 

Pour that over the apples and stir them, toss them, mix them, whatever you do to get them nicely coated. 

Is your wooden spoon your magic wand? It’s a natural match! A wooden spoon still carries the memory of the life of the tree it came from. I put a little cooking oil in my hand and wipe it over the spoon, infusing it with the intention of home, family and food. 

So your filling is done, onto the crumble!

Now you are making crumbs which are essentially flour, sugar, fat and spices. Go half and half, that is half a cup, of your choice of flour and sugar and stir them together nicely. Then, sprinkle the spices over the flour and sugar mixture and stir them in. 

The spices are easy to remember, try this ratio first, it’s been a crowd pleaser, then sort out your own variant with some kind of memory device. But, first, repeat after me: 

Cinnamon, ginger and mace
One half, one quarter, one eighth

Just remember that “mace” is nutmeg and you’ll never wonder again!

The measurements referred to in the rhyme are for teaspoon portions. 

You’ll notice this isn’t crumbling! That’s because you need some kind of fat. If you are not going for a dairy-free or vegan pie, just cut in a quarter cup (one half of a standard bar) of butter. If you are not able to use butter, a good organic vegetable shortening works just fine, and there’s a dairy-free version of Butter Buds available that I added once with yummy results. 

When I started baking I fancied myself a reconstructionist of some sort and insisted on cutting in the butter with knives. It’s good practice. Now I love my pastry blender! It gives me more control than using a food processor but it’s much simpler than going back to the iron age. 

I have recently turned to a light baking for my frozen pie crust before adding the ingredients because it just wasn’t getting completely baked when I didn’t. You can try this - just five minutes at 450 degrees is fine. You may wish to cover the edges with foil. When you’re done, bring the oven back to 375 degrees so that it’s preheated. Even if you aren’t pre-baking the shell, you can just preheat the oven. 

Whether you pre-bake your crust or not, it’s time to pour in the filling and crumble the top!

Following the recipe exactly, I end up with a lot of crumble which originally was a mess, but I’ve gotten the hang of using it all up evenly. 

First I pile the filling in so that it’s like a small hill of slippery apples, then I use both hands to apply the crumbles. I’m right-handed, so I take a handful of the crumble mixture in my right hand and use my left hand as kind of a goalie net down at the crust and work my way around the pie, handful by handful, sprinkling a good covering from the top-ish of the pie down to the crust, without losing a bunch of crumbles onto the counter. When I’ve gone all the way around I usually have a bit of a bald spot right there at the top, but a goodly amount of crumble left over. I cover the top, then look for spots where I can see the filling and sprinkle a little more there. 

It’s gotten so that it works out perfectly, but it took a few pies to work out the technique. Not the worst situation in the world! The aroma of baking apple pie has a magic all of its own. 

The crumble is simple, but you don’t get to etch magic into the crust like you would a standard two-crust pie. But if you’ve been using a wooden spoon as a wand and have thrown in a couple of loving invocations while you stirred and tossed, then the magic is already “baked in,” so to speak! 

Now is the time to cover the edges of that pie crust with foil, for the first thirty minutes of baking. This is the challenging part for me. My standard cookbook advises to get out a huge sheet of foil, fold in quarters and cut out a circle, which you then just throw away. Ah, those crazy, self-centered eighties! 

Knowing how precious the elements are for that foil I tend to just pull out three thin strips and then wrestle them into submission on the edge of the pie. It’s not a science and it frequently shows whether or not I’ve been mediating enough lately. Don’t blow the good pie vibes getting all annoyed at the foil. You are not alone! 

Once I’ve got the edges covered and have had a good laugh at myself, and the oven is preheated to the right temperature I put the pie on a nice large cookie sheet, to catch the inevitable run off, and set the timer for 30 minutes. 

Relax. Remember the burning candle. Plan the rest of the day. 

When the timer goes off it is time to remove the foil from the edge of the pie. If, like me, you didn’t put the foil around the pie while pre-baking, and you left it a little too long, just leave the foil on. 

Reset the timer for another 30 minutes. Clean up the kitchen, get ready for your guests or just kick it. Your home will now be filling up with that magical scent. It’s better than incense and more powerful because it carries with it a thousand years of love and community. 

When that timer goes off again, pull out the pie and set it somewhere to cool. The recipe recommends that it be served warm, but I’ve never had anyone refuse a piece, regardless of the temperature! 

Blow out the candle and get on with your summer. You are a part of the magic. 

Derived from: Better Homes and Gardens - Apple Crumble Pie

1 cup sugar

2 T flour

6 C thinly sliced peeled apples (2lbs)

3 t lemon juice (or concentrate, see above)

1 frozen, pre-made pie crust that suits your dietary needs

1/2 C flour

1/2 t cinnamon

1/4 t ginger

1/8 t nutmeg/mace

1/4 cup shortening or butter

Combine 1/2 C sugar and 2 T flour, toss with apples to coat, add lemon juice, toss again. 

Fill pie crust with apple filling. 

Combine 1/2 C flour, 1/2 C sugar and spices, cut in shortening or fat. Sprinkle over pie filling. 

Cover edges of crust with foil, and bake for 30 minutes at 375 degrees. 

Uncover crust edges and continue baking for another 30 minutes. Topping should be golden

Allow a few minutes to cool and serve warm. Serves 8. 

Blessed be!

© Paulie Rainbow 2013