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Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

Grandma’s Apple Pie: A Pie of Many Fillings

Grandpa Orr would rather chew on the end of his leftover cigar than eat cake, but he did love a simple piece of pie - that's what we made him for his birthday.

Apple pie without top crust yet attached

Photo: Spencer Ritenour/WFIU

Apple pie is by far the most common and popular pie in the United States. Most early American cookbooks did not even include a recipe for it because it was assumed that its method was known by all cooks.

My Grampa Orr would rather chew on the end of his leftover cigar than eat cake. The old Scotsman didn’t like “too much kitchen.” However, he did love a simple piece of pie.

Like my Grampa, I love pies and cobblers; I can’t wait for the summer’s harvesting of warm fruit from the vines, brambles, and trees. Grampa is gone now, but this little family history stays with me.

It’s worth checking your family’s recipe file for some great old fashioned pie recipes to keep the history going.

A Pie Of Many Fillings

Speaking of history, the English settlers brought their love of pie to the New World.  These pies were often savory with fillings of meat, game, and fowl.  Fruit and berry pies were also well loved.  What we think of as cream or custard pies were described as puddings, having changed to pies sometime during the early twentieth century.

An American Classic

Apple pie is by far the most common and popular pie in the United States.  Most early American cookbooks did not even include a recipe for it because it was assumed that its method was known by all cooks.

For many of us, a perfect apple pie, with the right balance of sweet and tart, is the test of a great pie baker.  It is always important to select the right apples; being sure to use fruit that has a good depth of flavor and a firm texture that will not turn to mush when baked is key.

Fruit pies are wonderful for showing off the splendor of ripe fruits throughout the year.  It’s hard to imagine a summer gathering without a blueberry pie, oozing with sweet juices.  And what could be better than freshly picked peaches, piled high in a pie crust, sprinkled with nutmeg and baked to perfection.

Pie Favorites

In the Midwest, sugar cream pie has found a place of honor among pie enthusiasts. A simple concoction of cream, sugar, and a bit of flour, this pie is thought to have been a last resort when there was no fruit on hand for baking.

Dating back to the early 1800′s in Indiana, this pie, rarely containing eggs, could easily be prepared in any home, even one with the sparest of pantries. Lemon custard pie, topped with a mountain of meringue “chiffon”, is another favorite when it is made plenty tart and with a good amount of grated lemon zest.

Gramma’s Apple Pie with Sweet Seasons and Ginger


For the crust:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
  • ½ cup finely ground blanched almonds
  • ½ pound lard or butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 heaping teaspoon brown sugar
  • 3 to 6 tablespoons water, very cold

For the filling:

  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon Sweet Seasons Spice Blend (recipe follows)
  • 1 tablespoon ginger- freshly minced
  • 3 pounds apples- sliced in ¼ inch thick wedges
  • ½ cup white raisins
  • ¼ cup bourbon or calvados
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. Cut the lard into 1/2 inch cubes, chilled in freezer for at least 45 minutes.
  2. In a food processor, combine flour, almonds, salt and brown sugar, pulse to mix. Add frozen lard and pulse 6 to 8 times, until mixture resembles coarse meal, with pea size pieces of fat. Add water 1 Tablespoon at a time, pulsing until mixture just begins to clump together. If you pinch some of the crumbly dough and it holds together. If it doesn’t add a touch more water.
  3. Remove dough from machine and place on a clean surface. Form dough into two round discs. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before continuing.
  4. Remove dough from the refrigerator. Let sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes. Sprinkle some flour on top of the disk. Roll them out with a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface to a 12-inch circle; about 1/8 of an inch thick. Place one on to a 9-inch pie plate and return the other to the fridge until needed.
  5. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  6. Combine all ingredients for the pie filling mixture
  7. Spoon in apple filling, mounding slightly in center.  Roll out second disk of dough, as before. Gently turn over onto the top of the apples in the pie. Pinch top and bottom of dough rounds firmly together. Trim excess dough leaving a 3/4 inch overhang. Fold dough under and crimp to seal.
  8. Cut slits in top crust to allow steam to escape. Brush with a little water and sprinkle with some sugar.  Bake pie until crust begins to turn golden, about 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 350°F. Cover edges with a little foil.
  9. Continue to bake until crust is golden in the center and juices are thickened and bubbling. About 30 to 45 minutes. Remove and cool on a rack for at least an hour.
  10. Serve with a slice of good cheddar cheese, whipped cream or ice cream.

Serves: 8

Sweet Seasons Spice Blend

  • 1 teaspoon ginger powder
  • 1 stick cinnamon (1/2″)
  • 1/2 teaspoon annatto seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon pomegranate powder
  • 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 2 pieces star anise
  • 2 pieces cloves
  • 1 piece mace
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground nutmeg
  • 2 bay leaves

Grind fine in a spice blender. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.

Chef Daniel Orr

Chef Daniel Orr is the owner of FARMbloomington and the author of several cookbooks. He draws from a lifelong curiosity about individual ingredients combined with extensive training in the art of finding food’s true essence and flavor. The result is simple, yet sophisticated; the best of American food tempered by classic European training.

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