Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Recipe for Apple Pie

Apple Pie

For the crust:
2 ¼ cups flour
½ tsp. salt
1 ¼ sticks butter, cubed and chilled
3-4 Tbs. water

You don’t need very much to make a good crust. Crust is basic, like stone and bread. It has been with us as long as language, as long as bone. You need muscles in your arms. You need love – any kind will do. Love for the afternoon you’re cooking in, for the texture of the flour, for the shape of your hands, the warmth of the kitchen, the wind blowing in from the open window. You don’t need big love. Just enough to keep the dough from getting too sticky, enough to roll out the crust smooth and true.

Mix the flour and the salt. Cut in the chilled butter and use your hands to blend it with the flour. It might take a long time. Use your muscles. Squeeze the soft butter between your fingers until it crumbles into pebbles and the whole mixture resembles coarse seed, oatmeal-colored and pleasant to the touch. Notice the way the flour sticks to your hands, and changes their color. Even flour has a smell.

One tablespoon at a time, add the water, mixing constantly, until you can collect all the dough into a rough ball. This is the magic of flour and fat: they cling to each other. You are making shape out of formlessness. It is no small act. Go slowly. Collect each pebble of dough from the sides of the bowl. Take them between your hands. Bring them closer and closer until they disappear into each other.

Chill the dough before you roll it out. It doesn’t matter how long – an hour or the length of an afternoon or the amount of time it takes you to peel the apples. Do not chill it overnight. The long darkness will make it sticky and brittle.

On a smooth, lightly floured surface, flatten the dough with your hands into a smooth, round oval. Like everything else, dough needs to be touched. You have to pamper it with your flesh and blood, with the warmth of your skin. You have to let it feel the life flowing through you. Let it guide you. Follow its cracks and knit them together with the clean wood of the rolling pin. Lean into the counter with all your gentle strength. Give yourself up to it. Cooking is a love affair with flour and fruit and seeds, with conversation, with warmth, with scent. To roll out a crust you need to be bold and tender. You have to love the flour and the water and the texture of what they make together. You have to love the time it takes to put your hands into something whole, something that will sustain.

Lay the crust into a 9-inch pie pan. Patch up the sides with leftover bits of dough. It probably won’t be perfect, but if your handprints and your heart prints are there, it will be delicious.

For the filling:
7 fresh apples with hard red skins and crisp, sweet-tart flesh that tastes like fall and home. Make sure you can feel their weight against your skin when you hold them in the palm of your hand.
1 cup honey (to taste). Bees collect pollen from flowers and turn it into thick, dark honey. Bees are small and fly together in swarms during the winter to keep warm. Bees need water like everything else. It was so dry this summer they hovered over the buckets full of lettuce, clamoring with thirst. If you have been to the place where the hives are kept, if you have walked the meadows full of clover and buckthorn, think of the bees as you measure out one cup of the golden liquid.
1-2 Tbs. cinnamon. Cinnamon is the bark of a tree that grows on the other side of the world. Use it with a reverence for distance. Say a blessing for the shapes of trees that bind us together.
1 Tbs. ginger.
1-2 sp. freshly grated nutmeg. When you grate whole nutmeg, you open a small brown star in the middle of the seed and the scent of explodes outward from its dark skin, staining your hands and your breath.

Peel and core the apples and slice them thinly. While you’re slicing them, notice the sound the knife makes as you ease it through the flesh. Notice the way you have to first pierce the skin, the way a little water seeps out onto the counter every time you make a cut. Apple seeds are like humans; every seed is unique. There as many kinds of apples as there are seeds. Notice the way they feel in your hands. Notice the movement of your muscles as you peel the skin away. It is important to use your muscles. It is important to be slow, to love each gesture of your hands. Pies have a memory. More goes into them that fruit and spices. To make a good pie, you have to mix in a little of the day – the sunlight or the cold rain, the murmur of the sparrows or the shadow of a hawk that cut across the sky as you grated nutmeg. Pies are small enough to fit in an oven but you can fill them endlessly with details.

In a large bowl, toss the apples with the honey, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and a little flour. Toss them with the miracle that flavors blend together, with a prayer for fire, with the smell of decaying leaves and the whisper of the first frost on the evening wind. Mix well with a long-handled wooden spoon. You can put anything you want in a pie, but you have to mean it. Forgiveness is sweet and love burns. Sadness adds a dark and bitter aftertaste. Never pour anything untrue into your pie. Whatever honesty is yours in the hour that you make it is enough.

Pour the apples into the rolled out crust. Bake for an hour and 15 minutes at 425°. While the pie bakes, open your windows so the scent of it wafts into the street. Wash the dishes slowly, with hot water. Sit at the kitchen table and drink a cup of tea. Cooking is the most basic act, the most forgiving act, the most generous act. To make a pie is to offer sustenance to the world.

Eat the pie hot with gratitude. Bless it. Let each bite roll slowly off your fork and into your mouth. Share. Close your eyes and let the flavors of apple and ginger linger in your mouth. This is one way to say a prayer. With apples baked with cinnamon and awe in a kitchen that smells of rain and fresh warmth, with each movement of hands over flour, with the scent of something baking. This is one way to say a prayer. To slice apples and mix them with honey and loneliness, to use the muscle of your hands to shape dough into something infinite and solid, to fill a pie to the brim with wonder.

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