Focus in on the delights of the kitchen and the table with ...

In a beautifully written and handsomely illustrated book called Old Southern Apples, Creighton Lee Calhoun tells the story of what apples and apple trees have meant in Southern life over centuries, up until just a few generations ago. Though the book is out of print, it’s worth seeking out in used bookstores, libraries or from online sources, for its fine illustrations, history of Southern food and agricultural traditions, and details about heirloom apple varieties, some of which survive and some of which have disappeared from the landscape as farmland dwindled away. Rural families often had not one apple tree or two, but a whole orchard’s worth, coming ripe from August through November, and each variety of apple tree with its own purpose. Some made briskly sweet cider, some were suited for apple butter and apple sauce, some were for pies or drying for wintertime use, and a few were for the least important purpose, eating out of hand. Mr. Calhoun lives here in Piedmont North Carolina, and I had the pleasure of visiting him and interviewing him several years ago.  Read the story I wrote about Mr. Calhoun in 2008 for Edible PiedmontMagazine  <>, if you’re hungry for more on apples on Southern farms and tables. Or go find some apples and treat yourself to the sweet and satisfying fall indulgence, apple pie. For my pie I used a combination of granny smiths, jonagolds, golden delicious, and macintosh, and the fragrance from the oven about halfway through the baking time floated through the house. Apple pie suits me on days when I don’t want to pay a lot of attention to my pie work — once you’ve made an apple pie or two or three, you’ll most likely need no measuring and recipes at all, and you can vary this simple standard formula to suit yourself — more spice? less sugar? a squeeze of lemon or a splash of cider or water to juice things up? It’s all up to you and your apple pie attitude.

Nancie’s Everyday Apple Pie

Pastry for a double-crust pie

8 cups peeled and sliced apples (about 8 good-sized apples)

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small bits

Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a pie pan with one sheet of piecrust, leaving about 1 1/2 inches overlappingthe edges of the pie pan. Place the apples in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, combine the sugar, flour cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt, and stir with a fork to mix everything together well. Pour the sugar-spice mixture over the apples, and use your hands or a large spoon to toss them gently, so that the apples are seasoned fairly evenly. Pour the apples into the piecrust, and pile them up so that they peak in the middle. Sprinkle the butter all over the apples so that it’s evenly distributed. Carefully drape the top crust over the apples, and then press it gently around the inside edge of the pie pan, covering the apples well. Fold the bottom crust up and over the edges of the top crust and press to seal them together well. Using the tines of a fork or your fingers, press the crust into a handsome edge for the pie. (If you have lots of crust, trim it so that you have plenty to enclose and seal up the pie, but not a great excess of dough.) Using a butter knife, cut small steam vents in the top crust. Place the pie in the 425 degree oven and bake until the apples have softened, the pie is fragrant, the crust is handsomely browned, and a thick shiny syrup is bubbling up here and there around the pie, 40 to 55 minutes. Place the pie on a cooling rack or a folded kitchen towel and let cool for an hour or so. Serve warm or at room temperature.

About the Author
Nancie McDermott is a food writer and cooking teacher, and the author of ten cookbooks. Her passion is researching and celebrating traditional food in its cultural context, and her beloved subjects are two seemingly different places with much in common: the cuisines of Asia and of the American South. Nancie gained her Southern kitchen wisdom as a Piedmont North Carolina native,and her Asian culinary research commenced soon after college, when she was sent to northeastern Thailand as a Peace Corps volunteer.
  1. GeorgeT Reply

    Creighton Lee Calhoun is publishing a revised edition of Old Southern Apples in December (Chelsea Green Publishing). It will have more illustrations than the first edition, and will bring his apple researches up to date — many of the varieties he considered “lost” have been found since, largely owing to the inspiration others have derived from his book.

    • Nancie McDermott Reply

      @George, thank you for letting me know this piece of news, how delicious and wonderful! I will put that at the top of my Christmas wish list. And how sweet to know that thanks all the good work that the Calhouns have done for decades, many lost apples turn out to have merely been misplaced, overlooked, and unnoticed. You’ve made my day. I think I need to check in with them and see if they have a Southern apple pie recipe to share for pie month!

  2. Belinda Smith-Sullivan Reply

    You had me at “apple pie!” This takes me back to my childhood days when I spent my summers in Mississippi with my grandparents. Thanks for the memories Nancie.

Leave a Reply