Earth's Bounty: PA Apples Make Fine Pies

Five years ago, Pittsburgh nature photographer Donald L. Gibbon started up an apple pie baking contest. Gibbon's wife channeled Julia Child. She and Big Burrito Chef Bill Fuller, no stranger to our show, judged. The Allegheny Front's Jennifer Szweda Jordan was there, too, to document the birth of Gibbon's brainchild. Hear the audio on this page. Now a full-fledged apple fest, the tradition continues. See below for links. Click on "transcript" for Gibbon's own favorite apple pie recipe. See links below for fests and pick-your-own farms.

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From listener Donald L. Gibbon, of the Sierra Club, comes this recipe for:

This is easy as pie, if you know what you're doing. I got the crust recipe from Gail Anderson about 40 years ago. The rest I made up by observation and trial and error.

The recipe comes in two parts, of course: crust and filling.

My filling is made with Staymen apples, from Kistaco Farms. The apples are important. Don't use soft, bland apples if you want a memorable pie. Use tart crisp apples. I usually use eight to ten apples, which means the pie is mounded up about twice as deep as the pan itself. If I end up with too many for the pie, I make apple sauce.
If you don't want your pie to be swimming in juice, peel, core and slice the apples a day in advance, toss them in a bowl with half a cup of sugar and let them sit. This will draw out much of the juice. When you're ready to make the pie, drain the apples in a colander. Catch the juice for use elsewhere. Then toss the apples with a couple of teaspoons of ground cinnamon, half a teaspoon of ground allspice and no more than three freshly ground cloves. Some people also like to have lemon zest in the pie. I grind my spices fresh in a small electric coffee mill. Add three quarters cup of sugar and two tablespoons of cornstarch to thicken the juice. If you haven't had time to draw the apple juice, then just use a bit more corn starch. It takes experience to know how to adjust all this to the conditions, but it won't make any difference to how the pie tastes.
Pre-heat the oven to 360 degrees.

To make the crust, mix two cups of flour, one teaspoon salt, half cup of vegetable oil and one quarter cup of milk in a bowl until all is moistened. Pick up the mass of dough and knead it around in your hands for a few seconds to make sure it's uniformly moistened. This is a key point in making this crust. If it's too dry, you probably have mis-measured the oil and milk and it won't be easy to roll out. Do not measure scant. If anything, add a few drops extra. Take about half of the mass and place between two sheets of waxpaper, each about fifteen inches long. Roll out until you have a circle of dough the same diameter as your wax paper. This will just fit in a nine by one and one quarter inch pie pan. Peel off the top piece of wax paper and place the pie pan upside down on the pie crust, then flip the pan and the paper over and peel off the other piece of wax paper, saving it for use with the top crust. Carefully adjust the crust in the pan, squeezing off excess around the edges and returning it to the remaining mass of crust.
Now put the apples in the bottom crust already in the pie pan. Place the bottom layer of apples carefully around the outside edge of the bottom of the pan so they completely fill up the space. Then mound up the apples so they much more than fill the pan. They're going to collapse a bit when they cook. Press them down carefully so the pan is really very full. Now add three or four slices of butter scattered around the top of the pile of apples and add another quarter cup of sugar, sprinkling it around the pile.
Now roll out the second crust between the two sheets of wax paper. When you get it full and round, a circle as big as the width of the sheet of paper, peel off the top sheet again, pick up the crust-paper and flip it over crust sidedown on the filling. Adjust the location to cover the filling, peel off the second sheet of paper, press down the edges, peel off places where it hangs over and use them to repair tears or fill gaps. If you have any leftover dough, roll it out again and make designs for the top of the crust. Cut several holes in the top to let steam out.

Now with a paint brush, lightly paint the top of the crust with the remains of your oil-milk mixture. If need be, add some more of the oil-milk mixture and sprinkle sugar lightly over the crust. Put the pie in the middle of the oven and bake for 35 minutes. Check it and add five minute increments as needed to get it nice and lightly browned. It WILL be boiling over. You MUST put a cookie sheet below it to catch the boiling juice or you'll have a mess on your hands. This is true of all good fruit pies.

This will produce a gorgeous highrise pie, with an elegant flaky crust. That's all there is to it.

For what it's worth, I have a polished slab of granite about twelve by eighteen inches in area on which I roll out any kind of dough. It keeps it cool. And I use an 18 inch long French hardwood rolling pin only about one and one half inches in diameter. These things are not essential, but they are reliable.