I spent a week this past summer on the campus of the University of Mississippi, studying oral history at the Southern Foodways Alliance. The SFA, which is based at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at Ole Miss, creates and produces films and podcasts, publishes excellent writing in its magazine Gravy, and stages food-related events throughout the South.
Since the SFA was founded in 1999, its director has been John T. Edge, one of my culinary writing heroes. For years, I’ve read his work in publications like Garden & Gun and the Oxford American, and we own several of his books, including his latest, “The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South.” On the second day of the conference I was attending, I found John T.’s office on the second floor of the Barnard Observatory and asked him to sign our copy of the book. “For Abby & Kevin – with thanks for the support and belief in a better South,” is what he wrote, I believe. His handwriting, bless his heart, is not the best. Mrs. LeBlanc, my fifth grade social studies teacher at La Vega Intermediate School, would have made John T. rewrite the inscription. She was a stickler for proper penmanship.
In the early 2000s, John T. (that’s what everyone calls him, according to Annemarie Anderson, SFA’s oral historian) wrote a series of small books about some iconic American foods. The series includes “Fried Chicken: An American Story,” “Hamburgers and Fries: An American Story,” and “Donuts: An American Passion.” The volume that I just finished reading is “Apple Pie: An American Story.” In “Apple Pie,” John T. talks about how apple pie became “an artifact of American culture.”
It might have begun during the temperance movement of the 1800s, as production of hard cider decreased, thus leaving the country with an abundance of apples. Or maybe the apple pie increased in popularity as Germans moved to this country and Americans began drinking more beer and less cider. Or perhaps it started during the Civil War or around the time of the Industrial Revolution. He makes valid arguments for each period of time.
He also travels the country looking for the perfect apple pie. Along the way, he encounters an apple pie milkshake in Iowa City; pie crusts made with Coca Cola; apple pie filling dotted with cinnamon Red Hots; and a crust made from cheese straws.
John T. would bring pie home from his travels, and his wife, Blair Hobbs, an artist, teacher and writer, would often recreate pies from recipes that he collected on the road. At one point, there was so much pie in their house that John T. began eating it for breakfast, a practice he defends in his book: “A breakfast slice of apple pie is elementally — if not structurally — the same as a breakfast slice of apple strudel.”
I have since embraced John T.’s pie-for-breakfast philosophy, as the pie recipe below makes at least 18 good-sized servings, which means we had a lot of pie to eat after this month’s photo shoot.
The pie isn’t baked in a standard round pie dish. Instead, the recipe calls for a shallow rectangle jellyroll pan, so the pie doesn’t rise during baking. The result is a dense layer of apples on a flaky crust with a streusel-like topping. It’s good warm from the oven with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or cold from the refrigerator a day or two later, paired with a cup of hot coffee to get the day started right.
All this talk of apples and apple pie generated a craving in me, so we used apples in several dishes this month, from sweet to savory, and even made a cocktail with apples (or hard apple cider, same thing … sorta).
And, after making some of these recipes yourself, if you find that you haven’t had your fill of apples and everything apple-related, head down to the Earle-Napier-Kinnard House at 1 p.m. on Sunday, October 13. There, Historic Waco Foundation will have a family fun day that it’s calling How ’Bout These Apples.
“We’ll have crafts with apples, Johnny Appleseed hats, cutouts of apples to stuff and apple printing,” said Amber Baskerville, director of marketing and volunteer coordinator for Historic Waco Foundation.
The foundation hosts a family fun day about once a month, she said, and about 200 folks attended a Peter Rabbit-themed event in April.
The cost for How ’Bout These Apples is $10 per family.
Grilled Apple Bacon Sandwiches
- 4 slices good quality sandwich bread
- Dijon mustard
- 4 ounces white cheddar cheese, grated
- 1 apple, such as Honeycrisp or Fuji, cored and thinly sliced
- 4 pieces thick-sliced bacon, cooked until crisp
- 2 tablespoons salted butter
Lay the bread on a clean counter. Spread Dijon mustard on each slice of bread, then add grated cheese to each slice. Place apple slices on two pieces of bread, and sprinkle with more cheese. On the other two pieces of bread, place the bacon slices. Carefully close the sandwiches.
Melt 1 tablespoon salted butter in a skillet set over medium heat. Add the sandwiches and grill until the bottom slice of bread is golden. Spread the remaining tablespoon of butter on top of each sandwich, then flip the sandwiches over in the skillet. Continue to grill until the bread is golden and the cheese has melted. Serve immediately.
Makes 2 sandwiches.
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound broccoli, chopped
- 2 large apples, such as Fuji, chopped
- 1 cup matchstick carrots
- 1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup roasted pumpkin seeds
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
Whisk together mayonnaise, sour cream, vinegar, mustard, honey, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add broccoli, apples, carrots, onion, pumpkin seeds and cranberries. Toss to coat. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate up to 1 day.
Makes about 8-10 servings.
Apple Slab Pie with Crisp Topping
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 3/4 cup butter, chilled and cut into pieces
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vinegar
- 1/2 cup cold milk
For the filling:
- 8 large apples (about 4 pounds), a combination of Granny Smith, Honeycrisp and/or Fuji
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1 cup sugar
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon bourbon (optional)
For the topping:
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 3/4 cup oats
- 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- Pinch salt
- 1/2 cup butter, cut into small pieces
To make the crust, add the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar to a large bowl. Whisk together. Cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly.
Break the egg into a measuring cup and add the vinegar. Whisk together. Add enough milk to make 1/2 cup liquid. Stir well.
Pour the liquid mixture into the flour mixture. Stir until combined into a dough. Scrape the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap, and wrap the dough tightly. Flatten into a disc. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.
To make the filling, peel, core and slice the apples. Melt half the butter in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Add half the apples to the skillet and cook until they’ve softened slightly, about 5 minutes. Strain the cooked apples and set aside. Save the cooking liquid. Repeat with the rest of the butter and apples. Let all the apples cool to room temperature.
Return the cooking liquid to the skillet. Add sugar, lemon zest and juice, cinnamon, nutmeg and bourbon, if using. Cook over medium-high heat until the mixture begins to thicken and reaches the consistency of syrup. Set aside to cool.
To make the topping, place the brown sugar, oats, flour and salt in a large bowl. Mix well. Add the butter and mix, using a pastry blender, until the mixture is crumbly. Set aside.
When ready to assemble the pie, heat oven to 450 F. Remove the crust from the refrigerator. On a lightly floured surface, roll the crust into a rectangle large enough to fit a 10-by-15-inch jellyroll pan. Gently place the pastry into the pan. Spoon the cooled apples over the dough. Pour the cooled cooking liquid over the apples. Sprinkle the topping over the apples and spread evenly. Bake for 10 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 325 F and bake for an additional 30 minutes, or until the edges of the crust and topping are golden brown. Cool slightly before serving. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, if desired.
Makes about 15-18 servings.
Bourbon Cider Cocktail
- 2 ounces bourbon
- 2 ounces triple sec
- 1 12-ounce bottle hard apple cider, such as Angry Orchard
- Apple slices, for garnish, if desired
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add bourbon and triple sec; shake vigorously until well-mixed. Strain into 2 ice-filled tumblers. Top each glass with cider and serve immediately. Garnish with apple slices, if using.
Makes 2 drinks.