It’s the Big Guy’s birthday, and I’m making apple pie. He and Thing1 eschewed birthday cake in favor of pie a few years ago, so after a day of excavating our mudroom (perfect birthday activity), I pulled out the Joy of Cooking and started making the crust. I go back and forth between the Joy of Cooking recipe – is it possible to use that and not think of your mom – and the one in the Good Housekeeping Cookbook, but, as I was peeling apples, I remembered I was out of the lemon called for by both of these recipes for ‘Classic Apple Pie’.
It’s amazing how your mind wanders when you’re peeling apples, and mine usually has a good head start anyway. I was on the 3rd or 4th apple I started wondering, not if I should make a dash to the country store – but how Classic Apple Pie became a classic. It’s the quintessential New England dessert in fall – every year we get so many apples that we sometimes have pie or apple-something every night for a mont. But, almost without fail, most Apple Pie recipes call for lemon juice.
Now, I know Joy of Cooking has been around for a long time, and it was certainly possible to find lemons in urban areas of New England even a century ago, but our town had year-round residents living the original off-grid lifestyle just 50 or 60 years ago. There was a country store – the one we still shop at – but it’s hard to believe lemons were a commonly stocked item then, and certainly not 100 or 200 years ago.
Now, I’ve learned not to use dinner guests as culinary lab rats, but I figured the Big Guy might want to eat adventur – I mean, authentically – on his birthday. I started thinking about what the earliest European settlers would have used for their Pie. I planned to google it later, but it was getting late, and I opted for experimentation over transportation.
I figured a mountain mom who made it to the country store every few weeks or so might have kept flour, sugar, and molasses, and maybe some kind of spices on hand. They would have had milk and butter, of course, and probably some kind of lard/shortening. But not a whole lot of lemon. Now, Julia Child’s mantra may be ‘Keep Calm, Add Butter’ (an admirable outlook on life), but in Vermont the rule is, ‘When in doubt, add maple syrup’. I figured that tradition was probably established early on and decided it was a good substitution.
Later, as I sat on the couch smelling the results of my experiment bubbling in the oven, I did a quick google and found that Apple Pie goes back in history as long as apples and flour were in existence. Some old recipes call for champagne in place of lemon, others were just apples mashed with flour. Apple Pie a la Mode made its first appearance at the Cambridge Hotel in Washington County New York in the 1890s, and the phrase ‘American as Mom and Apple Pie’ was coined in World War II.
But whether it was mom or the cook in the castle kitchen, experimentation was the most common component. The pie pan emptied quickly, and in the end, the family decided that it was also the most delicious ingredient.