Thanksgiving 2015 is right around the corner…. you’re probably smack dab in the middle of menu planning so here’s a suggestion to toss into the mix, if you don’t already make pies for the holidays – why not start a family tradition this year and let the baking begin!
But what to bake? This time of year I say go with tradition and start with apples. Local apples. If you think the availability of locally grown North Carolina apples is just for the months of September and October, think again. The local NC apple harvest is still in full production and these juicy GotToBeNC gems make holiday pies all the better!
To make the process all the easier, I’ve got a fool proof pie crust recipe to share that comes out perfectly every time making your holiday baking easy as…. well, you know.
If you can’t get into making from scratch crust, no worries, no stress – I recommend working with Immaculate Bakers’ Refrigerated Pie Crust – works like a charm every time and its organic!
Crust done, lets get back to the apples. If you have limited yourself to eating only the well known Red Delicious variety of apples, you might be surprised to learn just how many different types of apples there are in the world and even more surprised to find out that the state of North Carolina ranks seventh in apple production in the United States. Amazingly, according to my friends at the NC Dept of Agriculture, our Old North State has over 200 commercial apple operations comprised of 9,000 bearing acres of apple orchards and turns out millions of bushels of apples each year, about 60% of them are used in juice and applesauce production.
While apples are a staple in every grocery store produce department, like everything else – fresh picked from the farm local produce is always your best choice and apples are no different – North Carolina’s apple producing region centers primarily in the mountains around the Haywood and Henderson counties, the Mt. Mitchell area, and Wilkes and Yadkin counties. The better part of the apple trade in North Carolina comes from trees producing Red and Golden Delicious apples as well as Rome Beauty, Stayman and Gala varieties; but Empire, Fuji, Honeycrisp, Suncrisp, Jonagold, Granny Smith, Arkansas Black, Crimson Crisp, Cameo, Pink Lady, Goldrush, Limbertwig, Rome, Blacktwig and Mutzu apples grow in our area, too, as well as hundreds of other heirloom or antique varieties.
North Carolina’s apple growing season runs from July to late December and a quick day trip up to the mountains early this week will prove to land a tasty harvest from any one of the many roadside stands you’ll pass along the way. If you are in Charlotte, its under a two hour drive up to see my friends at Perry Lowe Orchards in Moravian Falls, NC up on Highway 16 South where they pick approx 4 million apples each apple season from some
While all apples are good for eating, I lean toward the sweet-tart to tart varieties like Granny Smith, Macintosh, Empire, Pink Lady, Honeycrisp and Limbertwig for cooking, finding they fare better baked, steamed or fried then a lot of the sweet apple varieties. Figure three medium sized apples, cored and sliced, to measure about a cup.
Apples are also great for juicing, on their own or mixed in your own house blend – try them juiced with mango and banana or use them to slightly sweeten your favorite green juice blend – yum!
Rich in pectin, high in potassium and weighing in at only 61 calories per medium apple, this popular fruit helps to keep cholesterol in balance, the high potassium/low sodium ratio of apples can reduce cardiac problems and has been touted as a help in regulating tension headaches, too. With ZERO FAT and 5 grams of fiber per serving, apples are a great snack food and good to enjoy at every meal.
Once you purchase fresh apples, they are best kept under refrigeration, as room temperature apples soften 10 times faster than they will in the refrigerator. While you’re gathering the fruit, don’t forget about a jug or two of fresh homemade cider – hot or cold, there’s nothing quite like it and while you are at the Perry Lowe Orchards apple house don’t miss the packages of dried apples made from 10 different varieties of their fresh picked harvest – a real treat that lasts all year long and is great for cooking as well (see the fried pie recipe below).
Like all of us if you are pressed for time this week and can’t drive up to the mountains before Thursday’s feasting, the happy news is that local NC apples are available at lots of local farmers’ markets in and around Charlotte and across the state as well. And farmers market shopping isn’t just a weekend affair – lots of local and regional markets are open weekdays this week right up until the holiday.
Foolproof Pie Crust
Makes enough for one 9-inch double-crust pie
2 1/2 cups organic unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. sugar
12 Tbsp. (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into small bits
1/4 cup cold vodka
1/4 cup cold water
Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds .
Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.
Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.
Heidi’s Apple and Pistachio Tart
Dough for one nine-inch pie
FOR THE PISTACHIO CREAM:
1/2 cup powdered sugar
4 Tbsp. butter, softened
1 1/3 cup ground pistachios
3 Tbsp. cream, for glazing
FOR THE HONEY BUTTER:
2 Tbsp. honey
3 Tbsp. butter
¼ cup apple cider
Roll the dough out on a sheet of parchment paper and then fit into a 9 or 10-inch false-bottom tart pan. Chill the pastry shell in the refrigerator.
To make the pistachio cream: Combine the sugar and butter and beat until creamy. Gradually add the ground pistachios and the egg.
Spread the pistachio cream in a smooth layer in the bottom of the pastry shell.
Cut the apples into thin slices and arrange then in concentric circles on top of the pistachio cream. Bake the tart on a baking sheet in a preheated 400-degree oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven drizzle with honey butter cool slightly and serve
For the Honey Butter: In a saucepan combine the honey, butter and the sweet white wine. Stir to mix. Bring the honey mixture to a boil and cook until it has reduced by half.
Heidi’s Two Crust Apple Pie
½ cup sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
3 Tbsp. flour
2 Tbsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp. cardamom
Pinch of salt
8 cups peeled and cord apples, cut into chunks
¼ cup butter, melted
Dough for two 9-10 inch rounds
Combine sugars, flour and spices with apples and butter, toss well. Reserve.
Fit a 9-inch deep dish pie pan with a pie crust. Spoon filling into crust, mounding it slightly in the center. Top with another crust, this one slightly bigger so that you have about an extra inch of crust around the edges.
Fold the top crust under the edge of the bottom crust to seal and then crimp edges with your fingers or a fork to give a decorative finish. Cut decorative slits in top crust to allow steam to escape while baking. Place pie on a baking sheet – to catch any juices that might come out during baking – brush top crust lightly with milk and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 1 ½ hours, or until crust is a delicious golden brown.
Perry Lowe Orchard’s Fried Apple Pies
1 package of your favorite variety of Perry Lowe Orchards Dried Apples
3/4 cup sugar
1 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. vanilla extract
(2) 10 oz. Cans canned biscuits ( or use your favorite pie crust recipe)
Combine apples and water to cover in medium sauce pan. Cook over medium heat until tender and dry. Add sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla. Stir well and set aside. Separate biscuits and roll each biscuit into 5-inch circle on lightly floured surface. Or roll out your favorite pie crust dough to 1/4 inch thickness and cut into 5-inch rounds. Place 2 tablespoons apple mixture on 1/2 of each biscuit circle. To seal pie, dip fingers in water and moisten edge of circle. Fold in half, making sure edges are even. Using a fork dipped in flour, press edges firmly together. Heat oil to 375 degrees in dutch oven or electric frying pan. Fry pies until golden brown on both sides, turning once. Drain on paper towel. Yield 10-12 fried pies.
Note: To bake pies place on lightly greased baking sheet bake at 450 degrees for 12-14 minutes or until golden brown.