As a child, I have always been fascinated by the stories about little Laura and Mary. We started with just three books my mother had as a child, having them read to us over and over again. We were never bored with the wonderful life of the pioneer family. Soon, my brother and I started collecting the books, which resulted in having all of Laura’s books and a few of her daughter Roses. One book always kept missing, The Little House Cookbook by Barbara M. Walker was out of print in The Netherlands. By then, I didn’t ever think about getting it in English. When I started to study singing, my professor (an American woman from California) happened to be a fan of the books as well. It had been for years we talked about the cookbook, when she surprised me last year with an English version. She looked everywhere for it in the States, and finally had a friend organise it to come from the Mulvane, Kansas library to me. My dear (by now not professor but) friend wrote in: Lending period: 26 June 2010 – to eternity. I can’t describe my happiness at this moment. Finally I had it! And it is just a lovely thing to have. Every recipe is introduced by little parts of the ‘Laura and Mary’ stories, as we used to call them, and the illustrator is the same as for the other books: Garth Williams. The very first thing I made is one of my all-time favorite dishes: apple pie. I love love love apple pie. Closed on top, open on top, with stripes on top, with raisins, nuts, vanilla sauce, thick cream filling, you say it, I’ll love it. What smells better than warm apple pie? And it is actually easy, isn’t it?
Not so my Laura Pie. Oh my, first a lot of calculating. In Europe, we don’t measure in cups, but in gravity. And a cup of flour does not have the same weight as a cup of lard (what is lard, anyway?). How big is a 9-inch pie pan? Calculating out all my ‘kilograms’ and translating the things I had never heard of until that time -I was not yet common with English recipes- took me a lot of time. Than the procedure was kind of new to me: the ingredients have to stay as cold as possible, otherwise you’ll not get the perfect dough (I was very good at this the first time. Second time, I thought I could go without, resulting in a dry and far to crumbly crust..). It was quite a struggle and it took me like forever. And the filling was quite unusual to me: adding cloves and nutmeg was something new to me, I never came much further than cinnamon. When I had my work done after what felt like three hours, I was completely overwhelmed by the result. I loved it! It was just as described by Barbara Walker:
Thick, rich juice and crumbly crust were the marks of a well-made apple pie. Not-so-well-made ones had thick crusts made soggy with thin juice. Or the juice cooked over and gummed up the pie pan and oven. (p. 124)
The second thing was what happened with my second try. No chance to sleep in or to be unprecise..
Unfortunately, I did not take a picture of my first pie. And unfortunately, my dear one did not like the not-sweetened crust (the more sugar, the better, right? :)). The good thing was, I got to eat it all myself!
For one 9-inch pie shell (this is the doubled recipe, because you make a covered pie):
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (plus some dusting flour)
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cups of lard
Butter for greasing the pie shell
Chill everything, including bowl, on ice or in refrigerator. Make hands cold. Prepare a cup of ice water.
Mix flour and salt in the bowl, spoon the lard in and blend with your cool fingers (not with the warm palm! And no machine, this makes the whole thing warm as well) until uniformly coarse. Continue to toss as you add 6 tablespoons of ice water. Press the dough into a ball and chill it until your filling is ready.
Prepare the filling, you will need:
2 pounds of tart apples
3/4 cup of brown sugar
3 teaspoons of flour
Ground cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg: a pinch of one or all (all!)
1 tablespoon of butter
Prepare the zest of the lemon by peeling with a sharp knife (can you manage? …), not cutting in the white skin, set aside. Press the lemon (the quickest method is to half it, put a fork in it and turn this around – turn lemon around fork. I saw a cook doing it like this and it works so well!), put juice in a bowl. Peel, core and slice the apples into the bowl of juice, toss.
Get out half of your dough. Dust pastry surface and flatten dough on it. With rolling-pin, roll the dough out from center to edge, give it a slight turn, and repeat. This makes it evenly and prevents the dough from sticking to the board! Repeat until 1/8 inch thick and 2 inches wider than the pie pan. Butter pie pan, fold the dough circle in quarters, place it in the pan and unfold it (you might want to dust it slightly, to make the unfolding easier). Trim with a knife around pan edge.
Line with a layer of apple slices. Strew the layer with a third of the sugar and a third of the flour (make sure there are no lumps!). Repeat until all is used up. Now strew the zest and spices on top and dot with butter (you might want to cool this again, until you’re finished rolling out the left dough).
Roll out the other part of the dough the same way as before. Moisture the rim of the bottom crust with a wet finger, cover with the top crust. Pinch edges together with a fork or your finger. Vent the top crust!
Bake on 425 degrees (220 Celsius) for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees (175 Celsius) and bake 30-35 minutes more, until crust is golden brown. Please put something at the bottom of your oven to prevent any dripping caused cleaning-your-oven-afterwards..
Serve warm with heavy cream.
Needless to say, I think this is so wonderful! The spices are the perfect thing to add to every apple pie you make, if pioneer like or not. The combination with the lemon zest makes is warm, spicy and fresh at the same time..
Please let me know if you tried this out! I would love it to hear your comments/ideas..