As of April 2014, the top selling pies recorded by Nielsen for the previous 52 weeks was apple at 22.3%. (But there are regional differences.)
Apples are incredibly popular for being a healthy food. (No one I know, for example, makes broccoli pie for dessert.)
As the U.S. Apple Association reports, the United States grows nearly 100 varieties of apples in commercial production. There are also numerous “heirloom” varieties grown in backyards and commercially for “niche” markets. According to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, a U.S. Department of Agriculture bulletin published in 1905 (by a “pomologist” or fruit growing expert) listed 17,000 different apple names.
The top ten apple varieties grown in the United States are:
• Red Delicious
• Golden Delicious
• Granny Smith
The apple variety ‘Red Delicious’ is the most widely grown in the United States with 62 million bushels harvested in 2005. I hate this variety. For the record, my favorites are braeburn and honeycrisp, but not when they have been frozen and imported from somewhere else and lose all their great flavor. I love them best when I can find them at farmer’s markets.
The first American colonists were very big into apples, because, inter alia, the water was considered unsafe to drink. Cider alcohol became the beverage of choice; even children drank “Ciderkin,” a weaker alcoholic drink made from soaking apple pomace (the remains of pressed apples) in water. (It takes about 36 apples to create one gallon of apple cider.) According to an online history of cider:
“By the turn of the eighteenth century, New England was producing over 300,000 gallons of cider a year, and by midcentury, the average Massachusetts resident was consuming 35 gallons of cider a year.”
The Founding Fathers were big into cider. John Adams supposedly drank a tankard of cider every morning to settle his stomach. In 1789, George Washington was unanimously elected into the Presidency by the Electoral College. To rally his loyal supporters before election day he bought them 144 gallons of hard cider. Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson, had as many as 1,031 fruit trees, including many varieties of apple. The Monticello website notes that the Taliaferro was Jefferson’s favorite: “the best cyder apple existing . . . nearer to the silky Champagne than any other.” Unfortunately, it has disappeared from cultivation.
Hard cider remained popular in America until the early 1900’s, when some important changes in the U.S. gave a leg up to beer over cider.
One factor was the large number of German and Eastern European immigrants who brought with them a taste for beer over cider.
Second, advances in refrigeration technology allowed beer to be stored and transported more easily.
Third, when the Eighteenth Amendment (“Prohibition”) was passed in 1919, orchards were limited to production of 200 gallons of non-alcoholic juice per year. (Back then, nearly all apple juice sold was alcoholic.) Most land owners converted to other crops. Only small orchards survived by the time Prohibition ended in 1933.
Now, however, cider beer is once again becoming popular. It is lower in calories than beer, gluten-free, and its production requires no heat, thus making it more “enviromentally friendly.” Time Magazine observed in 2014:
… sales [of cider beer] have soared of late, up nearly 100% in one recent 52-week period. Data cited in an Oregonian story about the rising popularity of cider in the U.S.—and in particular, in Oregon—indicates that American hard cider production more than tripled from 2011 to 2013, from 9.4 million gallons to 32 million gallons.”
Brewers are now even making Ciderkin again (as mentioned above, this is the so-called “weak cider” or “water cider” drunk by children in the 1600s and 1700s.
But let’s get to the important part: apples used in pie.
Really, what could be better? This particular recipe from the Chicago Tribune includes two ingredients (cheddar cheese and alcohol) that add a great twist to a great pie:
Cowgirl Apple Pie
Prep: 1 hour, plus 1 hour to chill
Bake: 40 minutes
Makes: One 9-inch pie
1 disk cheddar pastry, see recipe
3 pounds (about 7) apples (a mix of tart, such as Granny Smith, and crisp, such as Gala)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup whiskey or brandy (or sub 1 tablespoon cider vinegar)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon fine salt
1. Slice: Peel, core and slice apples 1/4-inch thick.
2. Soften: Heat butter in a wide skillet over medium-high heat. Slide in apples; cook until softened, about 5minutes.
3. Thicken: Add sugar, whiskey, lemon juice, cinnamon and salt. Cook, stirring, until syrup clings to apples, about 5 minutes.
4. Cover: Scrape cooked apples into a buttered 9-inch cast-iron pan (or a buttered 9-inch pie plate).
5. Roll: Roll out pastry; trim to a 12-inch circle. Fit pastry over apples, tucking in edges. Snip a vent into the center.
6. Bake: Set pan on a rimmed baking sheet. Slide into a 375-degree oven and bake until pastry turns golden brown, 35-40 minutes. Cool and enjoy.
Cheddar pastry: In a food processor, pulse until mixed: 1 cup flour, 2 teaspoons sugar, 1/4 teaspoon fine salt. Drop in 5tablespoons cold unsalted butter, 2tablespoons cold shortening and 3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar. Pulse until mixture looks crumbly. Turn out into a large bowl. Drizzle in about 3 tablespoons cold water, mixing gently with a soft spatula until pastry comes together. Pat into a disk. Wrap and chill 1 hour.
Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC