Retronovated Recipes: 400 Years of Apple Pie

I believe apple pie is one of the greatest pleasures of the fall, second only to all things pumpkin flavored. Over the weekend, I baked three apple pies from three different centuries: the 17th, 18th and 21st. In each recipe, the flavours are so distinctive, so apropos of their respective time periods, that I’ve felt an unrelenting urge to make them at once and let my palette travel back through time.

I baked these pies with the assistance of my mother. I hope that through our experiment, you find inspiration for your own fall pies.

To Make the Basic Pie

In preparing these pies, I decided to keep the method for making the pie consistent, and let the flavorings be the variable. This approach is historically accurate: most old recipes are only a list of ingredients; after years in kitchen, cooks would already know how to prepare something as simple as a pie.

Use the crust recipe of your choice, or get a store bought crust. For the filling, use a mixture of softer apples that will break down with cooking, and firmer apples that will keep their shape. I used a combination of Ginger Gold, Gala, and Paula Red apples, about three pounds in total.

To prepare the filling, I followed Pam Anderson’s recipe from her book, The Perfect Recipe.

“Apple Filling: …Heat butter (1/2 stick) in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add apple slices, sugar and (spices) and when they start to sizzle and steam, reduce heat to low. Cover pan and simmer until apples soften and release their juices, about 8 minutes. Uncover, increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring frequently, until softer apples start to fall apart and juices thicken to thin syrup consistency, about 5 minutes longer…Refrigerate of set in a cool place until apples cool to room temperature.”

After the filling is cooled, fill the crust, and don’t forger to cut vents in the top. Brush the top crust with a half and half mixture of cream and egg yolk to get a nice golden brown color in the oven. Bake it for 15 minutes at 375, then 20-30 minutes at 350. The pie is done when the filling begins to bubble up through the crust.

1615: Pippin Pie
The oldest recipe in my pie time machine is from The English Housewife, published in 1615. I came across it in the book 1,000 Years Over a Hot Stove in a chapter on colonial cooking.
The Modern Recipe: The original recipe uses whole apples, whole cloves, chunks of orange peel, and shattered bits of cinnamon stick. In the 17th century, grinding spices would have been a laborious process, and not economical for making an everyday dessert. I updated the recipe by using ground spices and orange zest, which make the pie easier to ingest, while still maintaining the original recipe’s unique flavor profile. I cooked the chopped dates in with the apples; they began to disintegrate and thicken the sauce. A coffin, by the way, is the pie pastry.

3 lbs apples
1/2 tsp clove
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Zest of one orange
1 -1 1/2 cups dates
1/3 c sugar

The Results: While the pie was baking, the combination of spices made the house smell like Christmas. But when it came time to eat, the orange and clove made the pie taste exactly like a pomander. I think if I were in the 17th century I would have loved it, but nowadays I hate eating potpourri. On the contrary, my friend Sarah Tea loved this pie. It was her favorite of the three.

1796: Apple Rosewater Pie
This recipe is from the first American cookbook, American Cookery by Amelia Simmons.

The Modern Recipe: Mace is an extremely zesty spice and can over power a dish in a large quantities. Conversely, I added a hearty dose of rosewater, which adds a bright, cirtusy flavor instead of a perfumee one. A recipe appropriate to the 19th century can be made by substituting cinnamon with nutmeg.
3 lbs apples
1 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp mace
1 tsp rosewater
2/3 c sugar
The Results: My dad thought this pie tasted like Sara Lee, and this was my mother’s favorite. Despite it’s unconventional seasonings this pie tasted the most “normal.”
2006: Bob Evan’s Bourbon Apple Pie
This recipe comes from Amy Sedaris’ book “I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence.” I won’t include the entire recipe here, due to copyright issues. My recipe was inspired by hers, but stuck to my own methods.
The Modern Recipe:
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp nutmeg
2/3 cup sugar, divided.
1 cup bourbon.
Caramelize 1/3 cup sugar over a medium-low heat. When it is a little darker than the color of honey, remove from heat and slowly add the bourbon. Return to heat to dissolved the sugar, and reduce into “a thin sauce.” Stir into the apple pie filling after the filling has been cooked, but before it has cooled.
The Results: My mom loathed this pie and claimed “the taste was burning her tongue.” This pie was actually my favorite. The flavor seemed the most modern, and was the easiest for my pallet to accept. And I do love a glass of bourbon.
There you have it: Three pies. Three centuries. All apple pie in spirit, but all distinctly different.

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