As American as Mom & Apple Pie?

September 18, 2009

Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness.
~Jane Austen

Apple season draws nigh, and so does that pie. The pomaceous and biblically forbidden fruit of the apple tree, species Malus domestica, has been transformed into a scrumptious icon of motherhood—apple pie—an almost strangely ironic culinary image of Americana. Over centuries, the apple has historically become a symbol for temptation, seduction and outright sin. In Latin, the words in singular for “apple” (malus) and “evil” (malum) are strikingly similar, and they are even identical in the plural form. So it follows that by eating the malus from the tree of knowledge, Eve contracted malum.

The protusion at the front of the human throat has been called an “Adam’s Apple” simply because the forbidden fruit became lodged in Adam’s throat. Right.

Paris gave the golden apple of Eris (goddess of discord and strife) to Aphrodite after being bribed by her with the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen. In so doing, he incurred the wrath of Hera and Athena who also coveted the fruit. So, this pome pass ultimately caused the epic Trojan war.

The “fruit of the poisonous tree” is a metaphorically oriented legal doctrine that describes evidence gathered with the aid of information obtained illegally. That is, if the source of evidence (the “tree”) is tainted, then anything gained from it (the “fruit”) is as well and therefore inadmissible. An extension of the now rapidly eroding exclusionary rule, the “fruit of the poisonous tree” became precedent in a U.S. Supreme Court case, Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. United States, 251 U.S. 385 (1920). Even though it has legal underpinnings, the phrase has biblical origins in the gospel of Matthew which goes something like this:

Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither [can] a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Matthew 7:17-20

Given the negative implications, dark origins and sin appended to the apple, how did that hackneyed simile “As American as Mom and Apple Pie” make it into our jargon as an unassailable expression of national ethos? A pledge of allegiance of sorts. Some world views even have insisted that words like “God” and “Baseball” be included in the slogan which makes it a real mouthful, intellectually and syllabically.

Best guess? “For Mom and apple pie” was supposedly a stock answer given by American GI’s entering World War II whenever asked why they were going to war. But, don’t quote me.

By the way, my mom was not terribly fond of making homemade apple pies (cherry was her forte). That did not detract in the least from her innate skills as a mother or cook.


Dough (Pâte Fine Sucrée)
2 egg yolks
6 T ice water

2 1/2 C all purpose flour
1/4 t salt
3 T granulated white sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled, and cut into 1″ bits

6 large tart apples, peeled, cored, and sliced about 1/4″ thick
1/2 C granulated white sugar
1/4 C light brown sugar
1 lemon, zested
1 T lemon juice
3/4 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 t sea salt
2 T flour

2 T unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1 egg, beaten with 1 T water (egg wash)

Gently whisk the yolk with the water until it is well blended.

Place the flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor and pulse until combined. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10-15 seconds. Pour water and yolk mixture through the feed tube until the dough just holds together when pinched. If necessary, add more water. Do not process more than 30 seconds. Knead the dough for less than one minute and your work surface and then gather into a ball.

(Alternatively, place the flour, salt, and sugar in a bowl and combine. Add the butter and work with your hands, mashing it through your fingers to have everything blend together. It will form into small lumps or a cornmeal like consistency after 1 or 2 minutes. Pour the yolk mixture into the bowl and mix vigorously with your fingers until all the ingredients are assembled together into a ball.)

Divide the dough in half, flattening each half into a thick disk, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least one hour before using. This will chill the butter and relax the gluten in the flour.

After chilling, unwrap and place one dough on a floured surface and sprinkle the top of the dough with flour too. Roll the pastry with light pressure, from the center out. To prevent the pastry from sticking to the counter and to ensure uniform thickness, add some flour and keep lifting up and turning the pastry a quarter turn as you roll from the center of the pastry outwards. Turn the dough over once or twice during the rolling process until it is about 11″ in diameter and less than 1/4″ thick. Fold the dough in half and gently transfer to a 9″ pie pan by draping it over the rolling pin, then moving it onto the plate and unrolling it. Once in the plate, press the dough firmly into the bottom and sides of the pan. Trim the excess dough to about 1/2″ all around the dish, then tuck it under itself around the edge of the plate. Brush off any excess flour and trim the edges of the pastry to fit the pie pan. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator.

Then, remove the second dough from the refrigerator and roll it into a 12″ circle. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

In a large bowl combine the sliced apples, sugars, lemon juice, zest, ground cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and flour.

Remove the crusts from the refrigerator and allow to sit at room temperature for a few minutes so they can become pliable. Pour the apple filling into the chilled bottom pie crust. Strew the butter pieces over the apple filling. Moisten the edges of the pie shell with a little water and then place the top crust over the apples. Tuck any excess pastry under the bottom crust and then crimp or flute the edges using your fingers. Brush the top with the egg wash and cut slits from the center of the pie out towards the edge of the pie to allow steam to escape. You may wish to cover edge with 2″ strip of foil to prevent excessive browning. Cover the pie with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to chill while you preheat the oven.

Preheat the oven to 425 F

Place the oven rack at the lowest level and place a baking stone or sheet pan on the rack while it preheats.

Set the pie on the stone or pan. Bake until the crust is brown, juices start to bubble through the slits and the apples feel tender when a sharp knife is inserted through one of the slits—about 45 to 55 minutes.

Remove the pie from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool for about 3 hours before slicing. Resist cutting the pie immediately. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream.


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