If you drive the back roads of northern Wisconsin, every once in a while you will come to a place where the “No Trespassing” signs are so closely spaced that you assume the landowner got a discount on them. On a hot sunny day in August of 1964, I and three fellow students from the University of Wisconsin found ourselves looking at a phalanx of ugly signs guarding an apple orchard at an abandoned farm near Mole Lake, Wisconsin.
Since the bottom line of each sign said “By Order of the Sheriff” we assumed three things: First, that the signs had been paid for with tax money, part of which we had contributed; second, that the orchard must be on public land; and third, that the sheriff was probably just hogging all those lovely apples for himself and his friends.
I said, “We could make some good apple pies with those apples.” An hour later we were back at the cabin on Mole Lake with two paper sacks and a T-shirt full of apples. One of the guys had gotten permission from an uncle to use the place for a week if we promised to leave it clean with the beer and bourbon supply intact. We made a quick run to the general store for extra flour, lard, sugar and cinnamon and began our pie-baking project.
While I made the crusts, the guys peeled and cut apples. We had hardly started when we discovered that we were in a truly primitive fishing cabin: There was only one pie plate in the place. However, there were three large cast iron frying pans and a 9 x 13 inch cake pan, and I assured everyone that no matter what your mother did, you don’t need pie plates to make pies.
We had apple pie for breakfast, lunch and dinner for three days in a row to go with the bacon, eggs, bass and bluegills. Though the crusts were not the best I have made, and we had to guess on the amount of sugar to mix with the apples, we thanked the sheriff for some of the best apple pies we had ever eaten. Not that we actually said anything to him, of course, but we were sincere in the comments we shared around the table.
As Paul Kelly sings, “Stolen apples taste the sweetest,” but we all knew that long before he wrote the song.
Here is how to make a tasty 9-inch double crust apple pie like the ones we enjoyed that week at Mole Lake. If you want to bake it in a 12-inch frying pan, you have to double the ingredients.
6 to 8 large tart apples
3/4 cup sugar plus a little to sprinkle on the crust
2 T flour
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
Dash of ground nutmeg
Dash of salt
2 T butter
Make the pie crust dough first, but don’t roll the crust until the apples are prepared. Here is my recipe for plain pie crust.
Preheat the oven to 400º.
Peel, core and thinly slice the apples into a large mixing bowl. You should have about 6 cups of sliced apples. Mix the sugar, flour, spices and salt together in a small bowl and stir these dry ingredients into the sliced apples.
Line the pie plate with the bottom crust and fill it with the apples. With the right amount of apples, you should have to heap them a little to get them all in. Scatter small pieces of butter over the apples.
Roll out the top crust, dampen the edge of the bottom crust and seal the top crust to the bottom. Trim the crust and make a decorative edge with your fingers or a fork. Sprinkle the crust with a little sugar. Make four or five slits in the top crust to let steam escape as the pie bakes.
Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until juice is bubbling out of the slits.
Let the pie cool as long as you can wait and serve pieces with a large scoop of vanilla ice cream.
NOTES: The best apple pies are made by combining different varieties of apples. If you are buying apples at the market, choose at least two different kinds. Granny Smith, McIntosh, Braeburn and Jonathan apples are good choices. If you are using whatever kind is on the tree, taste an apple before you make the pie. If the apple tastes very sweet, add a tablespoon of lemon juice before you stir in the dry ingredients.
And if you are running short on pie crust, make Apple Cream Pie.