Apple season is in full swing here on the smallholding. It is a favourite time of year for the geese, whose morning routine now begins with an extremely loud and flappy visit to the base of their favourite apple tree to see what windfalls have come down overnight. They appear to have strict finders keepers rule regarding the apples and never try and pinch each other’s fruity treats. The chickens have no such system, and do plenty of squabbling and strengthening of the pecking order over the apple pieces. There’s plenty to go round though, and the chickens have been eating far less of their layers pellets in favour of the orchard fruit. Our four new Shetland sheep, who arrived on the smallholding back in July (we’ll post more about them soon), have been enjoying the odd bucketful of apple pieces too. And, as for us, we have been squirrelling away batches of apple compote and apple crisps, munching at least one fresh apple a day with lunch, and doing daily orchard inspections to check the apples and determine the perfect time to start juicing.
In the far corner of the garden, we have an enormous cooking apple tree; its age and variety a mystery. It stands over twenty feet tall, the overlapping branches too high for us to reach easily, even with a ladder. Every year it fruits prolifically. We gather up the windfalls for crumbles and compotes, and give away armfuls to anyone who expresses interest. They juice well too. As is the nature of cooking apples, the fruits have a tart-sweetness, which blends perfectly with dessert apples to create tangy bottles of juice for the store cupboard. It isn’t quite time to press the apples yet, but while we wait, there is pie.
Our apple pie is heavily spiced with cinnamon in the pastry and nutmeg amongst the apples. We use a mix of our sharp cooking apples, which collapse into a soft, purée-like state when baked, and eaters, which better hold their shape. We find this, along with the pastry crust, gives lovely textural contrast. There are also three different types of sugar, which may seem a little excessive, but they do all have a distinct role in the pie. Golden caster makes for a sweet, crisp pastry; light brown gives a hint of caramel flavour to the apples; and demerera adds crunch to the topping. Eaten warm with a drizzle of cold double cream to temper the sweetness of the pie, the result is a rustic, comforting, and very traditional autumn dessert.
For the pastry
- 175 g plain white flour (plus an extra tablespoon of flour for the pie bottom)
- 75 g wholemeal spelt flour
- 3 tsp ground cinnamon
- Pinch of sea salt
- 125 g unsalted butter, cubed (at room temperature)
- 100 g golden caster sugar
- 2 medium chicken eggs
- 1 tbsp demerara sugar (to top)
For the filling
- 6 medium eating apples
- 2 large cooking apples
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 50 g light brown sugar
- 1½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 tbsp plain flour
First make the pastry. Sift the flours, cinnamon and salt into a large mixing bowl. Add the butter and lightly rub it into the flour until the mix looks like fine breadcrumbs. Gently fold in the caster sugar. Then lightly beat one of the eggs and stir it in to the pastry. Bring the mixture together with your hands to form a nut-brown dough and shape it into a ball, leaving the bowl clean. Wrap the pastry in greaseproof paper and pop in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, grease a 20cm round pie dish with butter and pre-heat the oven to 190°C. Peel, core and thinly slice all of the apples and jumble them together in a large bowl along with the lemon juice, nutmeg and light brown sugar, then set aside.
Take the pastry out of the fridge and cut it in two (one piece slightly bigger than the other). Roll out the larger half of the pastry into a round and use it to line the pie dish.
Sprinkle a tablespoon of plain flour over the bottom of the pastry lining the pie dish (this will stop the bottom going soggy) and tumble in the sliced apples.
Roll out the other half of the pastry dough into a round and use it to top the pie (either as a whole sheet or sliced into strips and latticed), and crimp the edges. If you aren't latticing, make a 1.5cm round hole in the top to let the steam escape. Beat the remaining egg and use it to glaze the top of the pie. Then sprinkle over the demerara sugar.
Bake in the oven for 30-40mins until the pastry is crisp and dark, golden brown and the apples are bubbling.
We usually serve the pie warm with a jug of double cream on the side to temper its sweetness.
If you have any left over pastry, it'll make some lovely cinnamon biscuits; just roll it out to a ½cm thickness, cut it into shapes, sprinkle with a little demerera sugar and pop in the oven for around ten minutes.