Apple pie is the quintessential American pie, which, for many Americans, happens to be the perennial centerpiece of the dessert board at the quintessential American holiday feast, Thanksgiving.
The apple, though, is not native to this land. Not long after the arrival of the first European settlers in America, the apple followed across the vast ocean, too. Once European bee colonies were imported here, apple trees were much more fruitful. Also a European import, the apple pie made inroads into the American kitchen and came to represent what is “American,” so much so that it is forgotten that neither the apple nor the bee nor the pie are native to this country.
Before the import of the apple, America was blessed with only the bitter crabapple—no offense to this beauty, as the one gracing my front yard gives me immense joy year round, but it is solely ornamental and not suitable for pie. The apple was established here, and there are now thousands of species. The autumn bounty, I gather, explains why the apple pie is a large heap of apples in a thin shell of dough. The pastry shell, originally called “the coffin” in England, was not meant to be eaten. Its purpose was to envelope the apples.
An import to this land myself, I have had a warm-cold relationship with this icon of American cuisine. Like most immigrants I know, I love Thanksgiving, if not for its inclusiveness, then for the delicious feast.
But in my early days I never found apple pie satisfying. The small ratio of pastry to fruit was all wrong for my palette. And as enticing as commercially baked pies seemed, the flavor or texture was always a disappointment. There was not much to bite into, the texture offering little contrast to the filling. I mostly baked tarts to satisfy my compatriots’ cravings for the traditional apple dessert. Other than that, I stuck to an Israeli-style apple crumb cake, where there is a better balance between the pastry and the fruit filling.
It’s always children who get immigrant parents to be more entrenched in their new home country. Just like I did when I brought new recipes to my immigrant parents’ kitchen in Israel, my then-seven-year-old son downloaded a recipe from the Internet for double-crust apple pie. Baking from this recipe with my youngest child, a quarter-century after I moved here, I finally learned to bake a good apple pie and loved it.
But by no means did I give my apple crumb cake up. I am more partial to this type of crust, which is easier to make and almost foolproof. The challenge was to keep this recipe nondairy, or pareve, and still have the pastry impart the buttery flavor I so love, which I achieved by adding vanilla and walnuts to the dough, grinding them all together in the food processor.
So instead of pie, this Thanksgiving, try this immigrant’s recipe. Or, have it alongside your pie; there are certainly plenty of apples for both, and your dessert table will be all the better for it.