‘Tis the season for journeying out to an apple orchard and picking a bushel of apples, and arguably the best way to consume those apples? Apple pie. Nothing is quite so American as that particular New-England-y scene of autumn leaves and a warm pie in the oven.
But as it turns out, the original apple pies date back to the 14th century, and apples themselves go back even further.
Fossilized evidence of apples date them back as far as the Stone Age. The closest ancestor to modern apples can be found as early as the time of Alexander the Great, who supposedly found dwarf apples in Kazakhstan and brought them back to Macedonia. Later, the Romans introduced apples to England, where they hitched a ride to the new world with American colonists. They didn’t flourish until the European honey bee was shipped to the Americas in 1622. This was good news, since colonists would have only found crabapple trees in their new home.
So if the apple isn’t American, maybe the pie is? Nope. Pie has been around since the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, when they were made in inedible “reeds,” not crusts. Once again, the Romans spread the word about their culinary delight, and by the 14th century, the word pie was in the popular vernacular. However, the early pies were mostly savory pies, filled with fowl.
America isn’t even the originator of the combo of apples and pie. The first recorded recipe for apple pie dates to 1381, and called for figs, raisins, pears, and saffron to be thrown into the mix. Back then, apple pies didn’t include sugar, since sugar at the time was scarce and very expensive. Also, ye olde consumers of apple pie generally didn’t eat the pastry, then called a coffin, that held in all the apples.
So how exactly did apple pie become so “American”? Apple pie recipes came across the Atlantic with British, Dutch, and Swedish bakers in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Folk hero John Chapman, also known as Johnny Appleseed, did much to induct apples into the American legend – even though the variety of apples he typically planted were rather sour. During Prohibition, the American government pushed apple pies as one alternative for hard apple cider, and later, during World War II, American soldiers helped to popularize the stereotype of American apple pie, claiming they were going to war “for mom and apple pie.”
So, through a classic American combination of immigration and advertising, the apple pie became the culinary mascot for all things ‘Murica.
If you have a hankering for a real old fashioned apple pie, use this medieval recipe “For to make Tartys in Applis,” redacted by godecookery.com.
From The Forme of Cury: XXVII For to make Tartys in Applis.
Tak gode Applys and gode Spycis and Figys and reysons and Perys and wan they are wel ybrayed colourd with Safron wel and do yt in a cofyn and yt forth to bake wel.
- 8 large Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored and sliced
- 4 Bartlet pears peeled, cored and sliced
- ½ cup of raisins
- ½ cup of figs, sliced
- 2 tsp cinnamon,
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp ginger
- ¼ tsp cloves
- a pinch of saffron
- 2 cups of wheat flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup of butter
- ½ cup of milk
- egg yolks for glazing
Note: the pie shell recipe is for a “coffin,” a generally tasteless pastry made to hold in the filling.
Rub a tablespoon of the butter into the flour and salt with your fingertips. Take the remaining butter, and add it to the liquid. Heat the liquid over med. heat until it just breaks a boil, and the butter is melted. Make a well in the flour, dump in the liquid and melted fat, and stir quickly with a wooden spoon to combine. Cover with a cloth to keep it warm, and let the dough rest for 10 minutes or so in a warm place.
Pinch off two thirds of the very warm dough. Reserve the remaining third for the lid, in a bowl with a cloth covering it. We will aim for a six- inch base, with sides approx. 4-5 inches high. Pat the dough into a circle. With knuckles, thumbs, palms, and any other means possible, mold the dough into a bowl shape or cylinder. Splay out the top edges slightly.
Roll the remaining dough into a circle. Flatten out into a seven-inch circle. Cut a one-inch circle in the center. If you have any excess dough, use it to decorate the lid or sides with rosettes, leaves, vines, etc. Score the bottoms of these with a fork, and moisten, then attach to a scored section of the lid. When the pie has been filled, moisten the edges of the base. Put the lid on top. Pinch the edges together. Using a small knife or kitchen shears, cut small, inch deep cuts into the edges, making an even number, all around the edge. Fold every other “notch” down, to make a crenellated edge. Pinch the crenellations to ensure they stay down.
Mix all of the pie filling ingredients together. Pour into the pie shell and cover with the pie lid. Bake at 350º F for one hour. After one hour, glaze the pie shell with the egg yolk for a lovely golden brown color. Return to the oven for another twenty minutes.