Story and Photos by Zachary Armand
I believe that fall is the perfect season. Gone are the hot, steamy days that make me want to stay cooped up in front of the air conditioner, and the frigid, biting cold days of winter have yet to impart their icy grasp on everything. So, I’ve always loved the balance of seasons that fall can be.
Not only do I love the comfortable weather of fall, when jeans and a light flannel are all that are needed during the day, I also love all of the activities that accompany the transition months of September, October and November. Nothing feels quite as peaceful as walking through an orchard, picking plump, ripe apples off of the branch while thinking about eating warm, sugary cider donuts in the crisp cold air. Even driving around town in the fall seems special — there’s a certain excitement to seeing the spectrum of reds, yellows, greens and oranges as the trees begin to change colors.
One of my favorite things about the fall is the food that comes with it. The warm, homey food of fall just exudes comfort. There’s even a holiday centered around eating food. Dishes like warm, spiced cider and anything doused in maple are staples in my diet during the season. However, there is no fall food that I love making more than apple pie. Apple pie encapsulates everything I love about fall so succinctly, from using fresh, hand-picked apples to getting together with my family and making a sweet, warm snack, topped with rich vanilla ice cream.
More than just a delicious dessert, apple pie also has a special nostalgic value to me. More often than not, I use an old apple crumb pie recipe from my grandmother. My family has followed this recipe ever since I was young. I’ve gone from watching my mom bake this pie (stealing bites of juicy apple slices and buttery, sugary topping) to baking it on my own away from home with friends. Learning this family recipe from my mom is even what got me interested in learning how to cook and bake, and the recipe is still one of my favorites.
It seems like my family has made this pie almost every Thanksgiving. My mom and I usually begin working on the pie before all the other dishes have been prepped, so that we don’t have to worry about baking after everything else is done. After eating, something just doesn’t feel right without topping off a hearty dinner with slices of warm, delicious pie. Slowly, I’ve learned to make the pie myself without my mom’s help.
Now that I live away from home, I’ve even deviated from the tradition of baking pie on Thanksgiving. I usually make it right at the first hint of cool fall air, when I begin to feel excitement at what the season hold. As I’ve yet to write down the recipe myself, I still follow the old, browning index card with my grandmother’s elegant script guiding me through the baking process. I didn’t know my grandmother for the longest time – she lived in Michigan and I lived in Massachusetts so visiting was difficult, and she passed away when I was young. Looking at this recipe lets me feel like I’m still learning from her and upholding some family tradition that has been passed down.
I find it amazing that something as simple as baking a pie reminds me of home and countless happy fall memories. While I’m slicing apples and creating the perfect balance of cinnamon and sugar, I am transported back to countless crisp autumn days and festive Thanksgivings as I work with my mom to make sure everything comes out perfect. While it may not seem like a dessert can hold so much value, baking this pie allows me to reflect on the connection I have to my family and have a taste of home while I am away. Even when making this pie for friend, there’s a certain feeling of pride knowing that I’m sharing a recipe that’s been a part of my family for longer than I’ve been alive.
So, more than just instructions to make a pie, this recipe is something that I’ve been following for years as a staple of the fall season, and is an important connection to my home and my family.
Apple Crumb Pie
- 4 large apples – Granny Smith or McIntosh*
- 1 pie shell – see recipe
- ½ cup white granulated sugar
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- ½ cup white granulated sugar
- ½ cup packed brown sugar
- 1 ½ cup flour
- 11 Tbsp. butter – room temperature
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- In a small bowl, combine sugar and cinnamon.
- Peel apples and cut into small chunks. Place in shell and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar mixture.
- In a bowl, combine sugar and flour for the crumb topping. Then, cut in butter until crumbly.
- Sprinkle crumble topping onto apples. Squeeze crumble mixture together to make lumpy, if desired.
- Bake 40-50 minutes at 400 degrees until golden brown.
*the original recipe calls for these varieties of apples, and I’ve always used McIntosh. But I’ve come to learn that these may not be the best varieties of apples for pie. Recommended varieties include Granny Smith, Northern Spy, or Honeycrisp, among others. Use fresh and local apples whenever possible!
- 1 and ½ cup sifted all-purpose flour
- ½ tsp. salt
- ½ cup shortening
- 4-5 Tbsp. cold water
1. In a large bowl, sift together flour and salt. Then, cut in shortening with a pastry blender until it looks like course crumbles, sort of like cornmeal.
2. Sprinkle mixture with water and mix with fork until it makes a ball. Cover the dough ball and chill for one hour.
3. Flour a flat surface and a roller and roll out dough until it makes an 8” pie crust. Fit into a pie plate.