In the winter our basement smelled of apples. Every fall we would head to Bayfield to buy them: Eating apples, pie apples, apples for sauce, crabapples for pickling and those we called “keeping apples.” Those were the apples that perfumed our basement from December through March each year. Cortlands I am sure and maybe Northern Spies. My mother liked Jonathans and Wealthies for pies and McIntoshes which made beautiful pink applesauce.
I loved them all, especially when I could pick them off the trees, which we could do at some smaller orchards. Apples that you pick yourself seem to taste better. That may explain why I stop to pick apples from trees growing along roadsides, sometimes to the consternation of my wife who thinks that one should not park just anywhere. Most of them don’t taste very good, but I still am expecting to discover the next great apple.
My earliest memories of our apple trips are from the early 1950’s after we moved to the country. We would get up early in the morning, pack a picnic lunch and head north on highway 63. In the trunk would be a pile of gunny sacks ready to be filled with apples.
It was always an exciting day that included stops at several orchards and a picnic along Lake Superior. The farm families who sold the apples were good marketers, ready to answer questions and offer slices of new varieties that sometimes ended up in the trunk along with the old favorites.
The picnics were sometimes exciting too. I remember one when our 1948 Plymouth was stuffed with apples. The trunk was full, the rear window ledge was full, even my lap was full. When we got to the park along the lake, my sisters and I headed for the beach while Dad scouted for wood and Mom set the picnic table.
When we went back to get permission to go swimming (denied, as I recall), Dad was busy whittling spoons. He suggested that if I didn’t want to eat my beans from the communal can I could find some birch bark for plates. So my sisters and I spread out through the woods and found bark that we could peel from the birches scattered along the shore without hurting the trees. Bean juice tends to run off birch bark plates, but you can soak it up with your hot dog bun if you are quick.
When we got home, we emptied the sacks into bushel baskets and stored them in the basement. In the following weeks we ate hundreds of apples for snacks, and Mom turned apples into sauce, jelly, pickles and all kinds of wonderful baked goods. Some of those apples lasted through the winter, which meant we could enjoy Grandma Rang’s Apple Cream Pie for nearly half the year.
Grandma Rang immigrated with her family to the United States from Schleswig-Holstein in northern Germany. She almost certainly learned this recipe from her mother, which may explain why it is similar to Dutch apple pie recipes. All I know for certain is that my mother learned to make it from Grandma and that we all loved it. It is still my favorite apple pie.
Even better, it is absurdly easy to make. The most difficult part is peeling the apples.
1 nine inch unbaked pie shell
Enough apples to fill the crust
1 cup sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 T flour
1/3 to 1/2 cup cream or half and half
Wash, peel and core the apples. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Slice enough half quarter apples to make a tight layer on the bottom of the crust. Then fill the crust to heaping with sliced apples.
Mix the sugar, salt, flour and cinnamon in a small bowl. Stir in enough cream or half and half to make a mixture like a thick gravy. Drizzle it evenly over the apples. Bake the pie for about an hour, or until some of the apple slices are slightly browned on the tips.
Note: If the apples seem to be especially juicy, add an extra teaspoon of flour.