My coping strategies for yet another snow day–this one coated in ice–are almost depleted. I’ve done puzzles, read several books and caught up with all the wash and my e-mail. Naturally, I fled to the kitchen. It was time for pie.
Apple pie, in particular. I needed comfort. I wanted cinnamon-spiced air to envelope me. I yearned for a slice of a summer day. So yeah, pie was the answer.
This Spry recipe booklet from 1942 has been tempting me for months. The kindly older woman on the cover is Aunt Jenny, Spry’s spokesmodel of the day. She was created as part of the advertising campaign against Crisco (which is what I’m using today) and apparently had great success luring customers to Spry. Her homespun, folksy tone was featured in a popular radio show and of course, promotional materials like the booklet below.
Her recipe included an extra step that was new to me, and it promised a flaky result. Since I’m far from a pastry maestro, perhaps Aunt Jenny knew something I didn’t. Here are her instructions for a one-crust pie:
Spry (or Crisco) Pie Shell
Mix 1 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Measure out 7 tablespoons Spry and divide into two equal parts. Two parts? Two steps? This was all new to me, but I followed along willingly.
Step 1: For Tenderness: Cut in first half of Spry until fine as meal. Be sure to use a light cutting stroke (I used a fork).
Step 2: For Flakiness: Cut in remaining Spry until particles are size of large peas (I went back to my best pastry-making tool—my hands). Do not overmix.
Add 3 tablespoons cold water (no more, no less), mixing thoroughly into a dough.
Now , on to the filling:
6 large tart apples (I used 8 medium and sliced in chunks)
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter
The recipe directs you to first fill the pie shell with sliced apples. BUT I went off Aunt Jenny’s pie reservation here and did things differently. Why? Because of my mother, the best pie maker EVAH.
She always added flour to the bottom of the pie before mounding the apples inside the pie plate. Those juicy apples will release lots of liquid and you want, you crave that thick gooey pie (plasma?) globbing around inside. So, I added 1 tablespoon of flour to the bottom of the pie and added another 1-2 tablespoons to the sugar-spice mixture above.
Mix sugar, spices, flour, salt and lemon juice. Sprinkle over the apple slices as you gradually layer on the fruit. Dot with butter.
Bake in 425 degree oven 50-60 minutes. I lowered the oven to 400 after 45 minutes and baked the pie a total of 65-70 minutes.
The results: Aunt Jenny’s two-step method was a winner, and I believe the crust was the best I’ve ever made. It certainly was the flakiest crust I ever turned out. I should know because I did exhaustive taste testing afterward. I had pie for a late-afternoon snack and then again as a dinner entree later that night. Now don’t tsk, tsk. I’m in good company. The highly authoritative American Pie Council reports that “pie just isn’t for after-dinner dessert. Thirty-five percent of Americans say they’ve had pies for breakfast; pies as lunch (66 percent) and midnight snacks (59 percent).”
Furthermore, I joined the tribe (32 percent of Americans) who prefer no crust on top of their pie (we all cut down where we can, don’t we?) and the 90 percent who agree that a slice of pie represents one of the simple pleasures of life. To quote a famous, fastidious food and style diva: ‘Pie–it’s a good thing.’
P.S. Thankfully, there’s a statistic I didn’t replicate today: 1 in 5 Americans have eaten an entire pie by themselves.