For me, Halloween wasn’t about the candy. It was about the pie. Not just any pie. THE pie.
If you’re part of my family (and if you’re reading this blog, there’s a 92% chance you are) you know what I’m talking about. We Garrissere/Threlfalls are fortunate to know the wonderful Hilda Cabral, independent of her apple pies. A friend of my grandmother’s since they were young, Hilda has always been one of the family. Her apple pies have graced many a Thanksgiving table, but my immediate family always had a taste the month before.
On Halloween, as the night wore on, we’d break away from the other families, saying we needed to be getting back home. But we actually had one more stop. Hilda would answer the door, let us in, we’d chat. Then, “I’m so sorry, but I didn’t have time to make a pie this year” And then a flurry of “Oh, Hilda, of course we don’t expect you…” But she’d be walking back from the kitchen, pie in hand, with delighted smile. She tricked us every time.
One weekend in fall, my dad decided he was getting that recipe. He talked to Hilda and he and I went over for a pie tutorial. I credit this particular afternoon to my love for cooking shows. We stood there in her kitchen with its cage of cheeping canaries and watched the master at work. My dad made the perfect cooking show host, jovially teasing Hilda as she divulged her secrets and I recorded them on a piece of binder paper in my careful child’s cursive: “Now, Hilda, that’s more than two teaspoons; Rosie be sure to put ‘two heaping teaspoons.'” I wish I had that unforgettable afternoon on tape, but at least I can taste the pie and recall it.
HILDA’S FAMOUS APPLE PIE
direct from the source
10 peeled and sliced Golden Delicious apples
1 C sugar
2 heaping T tapioca
1 T flour
3 T butter
sprinkles of cinnamon and nutmeg
-Stir ingredients and let stand
1 3/4 C flour
3/4 C Crisco
pinches of salt and sugar
5 T cold water
-Mash dry ingredients with potato masher for 5 minutes
-Mix in water
-Roll out 2 crusts, put one in 9″ pie pan, add filling and the top crust
1 egg yoke [sic]
1 t milk
-Bake @ 350 for 1 hour
Here is what I changed:
-Fewer, but superior, Golden Delicious: I found a great produce market en route to our local Home Depot. (I’d link to it, but Marina Farms doesn’t have a website. I’ll just have to take you there in person.) With an impressive selection of seasonal squash, roots, and pears, it was the apples that did it for me. I’m used to finding green-tinted, petite GDs at the grocery store. Not at Marina Farms where the Goldens are true to their names. And they’re HUGE: the beauty in the photo measures 10″ in circumference.
-Pre-cooking the filling: Learned this trick from Cooks’ apple-cranberry pie recipe. I made the filling and then microwaved for about 6 minutes to allow the apples to soften. This prevents the disappointment of a beautiful pie…with a crunchy filling.
-Less sugar: Pies, especially when made with high-quality fruit, can taste too sweet to me. To let the natural sweetness of the apples come through, I cut the sugar to about half a cup.
-Tapioca: Just a note NOT to change this. Tapioca works as a thickening agent and adds the distinctive flavor that our family recognizes in Hilda’s pie. But be sure to use the powdered kind, not the balls. I used the stuff in a small box labeled “Cook & Serve Pudding and Pie Filling.”
-On nutmeg: My mom has an inexplicable aversion to nutmeg. It’s not just a taste preference; it’s hatred…perhaps trauma. Try reading her an ingredient list and watch her recoil when you say the “n” word. This pie is a safe place, Mom. Show me on the recipe card where the nutmeg touched you.
-Crisco, crisco: I just can’t anymore. I know it’s not evil, and can even be non-transfat now. But I gotta go with butter.
-Do the mash?: I don’t. Though in Hilda’s defense, I recall she had a metal masher that cut the Crisco cleanly, whereas my plastic one smooshes. I just use my pastry cutter or my food processor, and only for as long as it takes to make the butter pea-sized.
Trick or Treat!