Sunday, April 3, 2011

Apple pie

Before my grandfather (on my Dad's side) passed away, he gave my sister the recipe box that had been our grandmother's and our great-grandmother's before that. In it were many recipes that don't fit a 21st-century kitchen -- but since the kitchen that I am getting comfortable with here in Georgia is more like a 19th-century kitchen, the methods in those recipes are more useable for me than my trusty Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.

Tea has been wanting to learn to make some American dishes, but getting the right ingredients is an issue. If we were in the city, I might be able to get some "exotic" ingredients like cinnamon and nutmeg, but in the village, if it isn't grown here or isn't a staple imported from Russia (read here: mayonnaise), it is not available. It is also difficult to classify anything other than hot dogs or hamburgers as "American"..... then it hit me -- What's more American than apple pie? And I should be able to get all the ingredients for a pie.....

Since we are still cooking in the wood cookstove, I needed an old-fashioned recipe for the pie. There was no actual apple pie recipe in my great-grandmother's recipe box, but an apple dumpling recipe there listed some cooking directions for a wood stove. Through several facebook messages and Skype, my sister and I combined the apple dumpling recipe with her apple pie recipe in a way that seemed workable. She doesn't make her own crust (sorry, Beck, I hope I'm not telling any secrets here), but it's easy enough to make -- some flour, salt, butter, and cold water. And don't over-handle the dough. No problem.

Last week when I was in town, I bought butter and two kilos of apples -- we had everything else for the pie at the house. Well, everything except for those exotic spices.... cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves don't exist in this part of the world.... and no brown sugar, either. Without  the right spices, is apple pie really apple pie? I contemplated scraping the experiment until I could get to the city (Batumi or Tbilisi) again -- cinnamon may be available there -- but I decided to go ahead with baking it anyway.

Yesterday afternoon Tea and I started the crust. We sort of measured the flour (I say "sort of" because there are no measuring cups in the kitchen). Five small wine glasses full of flour looked like about two and a half cups. I eyeballed the hunk of butter that I had bought (just a solid mass wrapped in a plastic bag), and decided that it looked like the prescribed one cup for which the recipe called. I chunked up the butter, dumped it into the measured flour and salt, and started cutting it in -- boy, did I miss my pastry cutter -- with a fork and knife the job is much harder. I showed Tea how to do it, and we took turns cutting the butter in until the "coarse-crumb" consistency appeared. Then she added the cold water while I stirred -- just one spoonful at a time until the dough became sticky and just held together. We split the dough in half, wrapped each half in plastic, and put them in the fridge for the night.

This morning after our coffee, we resumed pie-making. First Tea stoked the fire to get the stove hot enough for baking. Then we got out the remaining ingredients we would need to finish the pie -- apples, sugar, lemon, flour (no cinnamon....). After mixing up the pie crusts and baking bread yesterday, there was only a small bit of flour left -- enough to use for coating the counter to roll out the dough, but not enough to mix into the apples to thicken the juice in the pie. So, we did what anyone in the village would do in this situation -- grab a bowl and walk to the neighbor's house to borrow a little flour.

Back at the house, with all our ingredients collected, we sat at the table with the two kilos of apples, a bowl, and two knives. We halved then quartered each apple; cut out the core, peeled off the peeling, and sliced the fruit into the bowl. Elene sat down at the table and watched us with a puzzled look on her face -- no one does this to apples around here.

When all the apples were sliced, I rolled out the bottom crust with a cold glass bottle. It worked much better than the wooden rolling pin I use in the U.S. (Note to self: pitch the rolling pin.... use a bottle.) I folded the crust in fourths, placed it in the pan, unfolded it, fit it into the bottom and up the edges, trimmed the excess, and put it in the stove to bake for a few minutes.

While the crust was baking, Tea and I mixed up one-half a wine glass of flour with two glasses of sugar (what I guessed is one-quarter cup and one cup, respectively), squeezed  the juice from two lemons onto the apples, then added the dry mixture. With my hand, I gently lifted the apples and mixed them until they were well-coated with the flour and sugar.

Fresh out of the oven.....
The bottom crust was smelling hot and buttery, so we pulled it out of the stove and filled it with the apple mixture. I rolled out the top crust and placed it on top of the apples, tucking the edges under the bottom crust. We brushed the top with milk -- thick, creamy milk -- and sprinkled sugar on top of that. I cut a few slits in the crust to keep it from bubbling up, and we placed the pie into the stove to bake.

Even without the deliciously homey smell of cinnamon and nutmeg, the smell of the pie baking filled the house with a wonderful aroma. Everyone in the family kept wandering into the kitchen to see if the pie was done. Finally, it was -- steamy apples and golden crust glistening under its coat of milk and sugar sat on the counter cooling, tempting everyone within smelling-distance.

Just then, Tea's parents, one of her sisters, and two nephews arrived. They all followed their noses right into the kitchen to see what this new smell looked like. Everyone was eager to try the....what to call it? I kept telling them it's not cake -- but to Georgians, a "pie" is bread dough filled with cheese or potatoes and fried. I told them it's American apple pie, but they insisted on calling it the Georgian word for cake.

No matter -- everyone loved it! Cinnamon or not, it was delicious!