Punt the pumpkin, we love apple

For all the years that my neighbor and I have made Thanksgiving apple pies, pie is still mysterious to me. She and I have met to bake on the day before Thanksgiving for a while now. And we don’t do pumpkin. Live with it. There’s a lot of touch and feel involved in making the pie crust; gray areas and adaptations. Humid weather means less ice water added to the flour, salt, shortening and butter. Dry weather calls for more. The result should not be too wet nor too dry; definitely a judgment call. This is how my neighbor, Cathy, says it should look – those are her hands, so you can trust the photo.

We wrap the dough in wax paper and let it sit for at least 20 minutes on the counter, during which time we face the apples. A lot of apples – at least 2 1/2 pounds per pie. Opinions vary on the thinness of the slices. Another neighbor, who couldn’t join us today, insists on uniform, paper-slices of apple. She has often found my slicing wanting and demoted me from peeling to bagging up the remains for the compost. Today, I have to say, we did not adhere to her rules. Cathy, my husband and I sliced as best we could.

Besides sugar and vanilla, we add cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg to the apples. We also add our secret ingredient: two tablespoons of my home-spiced rum (gold rum with cinnamon, allspice and vanilla bean left in it for, oh, two years now). Rolling out the crust is a tricky process made easier by Cathy’s pastry cloth with 8- and 9-inch pie shapes printed on it a (I need one of those) and the “sock” for her rolling pin. When the crust is in the pan, the apples are mounded way higher than you think they’d need to be. We make ample pies.

The top crust goes on, followed by a two-finger crimping process that I still have yet to master. Cathy’s look like magazine photos; mine like like a kindergartner worked on them. The secret is wrapping the top crust around the edge of the bottom crust first, then doing the twist-crimp thing. I can only hope people will be too busy snarfing it up to look at mine.

The aroma that fills the kitchen as the pies cook – vanilla and sweetness, toasty apple – beat the squash off pumpkin, I say. And no matter what their little imperfections might be, I think homemade pies are like brides: they are all beautiful. Especially with the dusting of cinnamon sugar and the cute little cutout of an apple that Cathy adorns them with.

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