Welcome to How to do Things Thursdays!
If you were to walk into my kitchen in early November, what you would see is apples. The gnarly red ones that fall from the overgrown antique trees in our lives as well as about 80 pounds of magnificent GoldRush apples that I order annually from my apple-loving friend, Andrew. They are in the dehydrator being dried, simmering on the stovetop as apple butter, and in a slow oven en route to becoming sliceable apple walnut membrillo. And, yes always the apple pies.
Come February, the GoldRush apples are shrunken, withered glorious globes of concentrated apple heaven that need to be salvaged before going bad. Which is my current project. So probably much to the horror of the writers of How to Do Things, 1919, I’m transforming them into a boozy apple pear mince pie filling. And I do mean boozy.
Our project starts with “boiled cider” which has been a thing on internet food sites for the last 10 years or so. But guess what? Cider syrup has been around for at least 100 years ever since the Dept. of Agriculture declared apple table syrup an amazing discovery and Farm Journal picked up the story in their How to do Things book. Woo hoo! Kinda cool actually for farmers who gained another way to make use of culled apples that would otherwise go to waste. The folks at the Farm Journal published their book in the midst of WWI sugar-rationing, so products like syrup and apple jelly made from boiled cider were especially appreciated. Additionally thrifty was their suggestion to add calcium carbonate to the cider which caused the malic acid in the juice to form filterable crystals that could then be sold at a whopping $2 a pound for medicinal purposes.
If you haven’t made cider syrup, oh, do so! It will change your life. Boiled down 7 or 8:1 or so, you can use the thickened syrup to sweeten apple pies, cheesecake, cabbage slaw, sweet potato casserole, gelato and pretty much anything. Don’t tell anyone, but I don’t much care for sweets. However, a bit of cider syrup does add a bit of mysterious complexity to foods that would otherwise be overpowered by more aggressive sweeteners. Like sugar for example (!)
Find a half gallon of good (preferably local) apple cider and simmer it for about 45 minutes. Remove the scum as it appears.
Boil the cider until it forms bubbles that cannot be stirred down. It goes from not ready to overdone quickly, so keep an eye out.
You’ll have about 1 cup of thick syrup which you can refrigerate, freeze, or water bath can to use all year.
We’re going to use a bit of it make our boozy mince pie filling. By the way, did you know mincemeat pies have been around for a thousand or so years? Filled with the fruits, nutmeats and animal bits of fall and doused liberally with whiskey for preservation purposes, these pies were a 19th century hungry farmhand’s best friend.
To make the pie filling, you’ll combine all the finely chopped ingredients and cook about 30 minutes until there’s about this much juice left in the bottom of your pan.
Once the apple/pear mince cools, you can use it for pie filling … I recommend a two crust pie with about 3 or maybe 4 cups filling. It’s powerful stuff. Or you can freeze for later in quart jars.
For last week’s vintage typewriter repair party, I made absolutely wonderful apple mince filled gingerbread mini-muffins.
And speaking of vintage typewriter repair parties, that’s the subject for an upcoming how to do things post. Meanwhile up next week is my daughter, Annie, who will be guest-posting about learning to blacksmith. Stay tuned!
- 31/2 pounds mixture of apples and pears (use tart apples that hold their shape and about three sweet pears)
- 1/2 cup white wine, apple cider or water
- 1/2 cup currants
- 1/2 cup golden raisins
- 1/2 or more chopped toasted walnuts
- zest and juice of one large or 2 small lemons
- 4 or more tablespoons bourbon or brandy
- pinch of salt
- 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/2 to 1 tsp. ginger
- pinch each of nutmeg, cloves, allspice
- 2-3 Tbsp. cider syrup
- Orange marmalade to taste (up to 4 Tbsp.) My winter apples are so sweet, I omit and just add orange zest *See discussion below
- Chop the apples and pears up into small pieces and place in a non reactive saucepan. An enamel-lined cast iron pan like Le Creuset is ideal, just not aluminum or cast iron. Add the wine and bring to a gentle boil. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer, uncovered, about 30 minutes or until the fruit softens, holding its shape and the mixture is thickened but is not dry. There's enough filling here to make two 9-inch double crusted pies. Freeze unused filling up to a year.
- Fragrant with warm winter spices and boozy to boot, you'll be glad to have a jar or two of this pie filling on hand safely tucked into your freezer. My friend, Jennifer Thomas, both artist and pastry chef developed this recipe based on the flavors of New England where she was raised. I've adapted the recipe to include cider syrup as the sweetener. Bear in mind that I have no palate for sweet foods. I use my old wrinkly late winter GoldRush apples for this filling and they are super sweet and not at all juicy. Add enough wine, bourbon, cider or water to the apples so that they have liquid enough to simmer. And please, sweeten to your taste and the personality of your apples. Some sort of candied citrus peel is traditional in mince pies, orange marmalade is a nice substitute. A splash of orange liqueur like Cointreau is also fun. Start with cider syrup and then add the remaining sweeteners as the apples cook down a bit. Don't fret if you don't have all the ingredients as long as you have the approximate amount of fresh fruit ... this is make-do cooking!
- ***For apple/pear mince gingerbread cake or mini muffins .... Make your favorite gingerbread cake recipe and drop spoonfuls of mince filling to the batter once it's in the pan. Bake as usual.
I was introduced to you and your books when I found a copy of The Lost Art of Pie in a basket at my favorite Thrift Shop. What a find!!! Finally a Soul Mate! I have been baking like this since the mid 1960’s when I was a young Military wife stuck out in the country in North Dakota then similar digs in Illinois. My spouse was an undercover Military narcotics officer. Saw him every 4 or 5 weeks. My Amish then later Mennonite neighbors came to call with bushels of apples or other produce and invited my to join them as they quilted and made pies and what they called Donuts (no holes) every week. With nothing else going on but caring for my 2 year old daughter & a cat, I gave in after a few invites and gifts of pie. Didn’t think that I had a “baking” bit of talent in my body! Little did I know!
My life changed for the better. The company and pies, homemade noodles and other Old Timey recipes kept me sane. I had no idea that these were life changing times.
These days, and for the past many years, I have had a career in food. The women that I have met along the way (mostly quite old, happy and full of willingness to share their talents and recipes), led me to a career as a Pastry Chef/Baker, Food Editor and competitor in too many to count pie events.
My love of pie, rolls and most things baked has been shared with many during my years of cooking classes, held in the kitchen of my small bakery/cafe in a Village in Eastern NE for quite a few years. A sudden illness that left me unable to do much of anything for over a year took its’ toll but finally I am back in the swing of things again. At 74, still working in food and making pies!
Turning the pages of your pie book was like connecting with a long lost sister.
I won’t go on and on any longer but you MUST know how much I LOVE your little books ( I gift them often and tell my students where to order them. I plan to order a dozen for a very special pie class coming up next month. I am gifting a dear friend who swears that she cannot make pie with a pie class in her home. I thought it was just going to be the two of us until lunch today when she asked if she could invite 12 or her friends from church to come to the class too. Your book will be the perfect way to share what I want them to know and learn about making pies. They will save me hours of typing recipes and instructions/tips etc on my computer. We are so very alike in baking.
Also, I have used Aunt Chick’s cutters and recipes for over 40 years! Sometime I will send you a photo of my Santa cookies make with one of her cookie molds…nothing like the instructions. . real show stoppers!
God bless you and all that you do. Today is the first time that I have been on this site but I will be back . . .and often to keep up with what you are up to. I am still working but have a tumor on my left hip which has slowed me down a bit. Treatment/Procedures are not fun and walking isn’t what it used to be but I’m still working and baking. Plan to order one of each of your other books early next month when I have a little more money. My cat has been very ill and between my medical things not covered by my insurances and my Vet bills I run a little tight some months. I may have to get one or two at time but I am so looking forward to having them that I can do without a few other things. I am sure that they will give me so much pleasure.
Thanks again and keep up the good work. I have fresh peaches coming in a couple of weeks that I order from a local church every August to put up in my freezer for the BEST peach pies! Will keep the summer in my kitchen most of next winter.
Warm Regards, from a kindred spirit,