In Pie We Crust – Three Apple Pie Recipes to Try

It’s apple season, and we have the scoop on transforming nature’s bounty into irresistible pies.

September 8, 2023 | | Food

After a summer of chasing luscious heirloom tomatoes, sweet corn and juicy peaches, lovers of local food turn to a somewhat humbler object of desire come September: the apple. While we’ve been gorging on more fleeting treats, these hardy gems have been soaking up and harnessing the summer sun, ripening just as the days get cooler in September and October – perfect timing for the two-part fall pleasure of visiting an orchard and heading home to bake with the spoils.

And if that’s too much for one day, not to worry. As an ingredient, the apple is kind to the procrastinator; unlike that basket of peaches which can go from just-ripe to mushy in a matter of days, your apples can wait well beyond a week or two for inspiration to strike.

As for the specific recipe you choose, apple pie aficionados say the homier, the better. Every year Scott Lunau, owner of Albion Orchards in Caledon, fields a flood of questions from visitors about what recipe to use. “I always tell them that the best recipe is their grandmother’s or mother’s traditional method,” explains Scott. “Many people have fond memories of smelling pies baking in the kitchen and sharing them with family, so they’re often dissatisfied with a slice of pie in a restaurant when it fails to taste the same. I always say that if Grandma knew best, why change what worked so well for her?”

Just ask Creemore pie maven Karen Scully. In 2012 Karen entered the annual Creemore Farmers’ Market Apple Pie Contest for the very first time with a Dutch apple pie recipe handed down by her great-grandmother and finally written down in a family cookbook by Karen’s mother, Janis Schut. Karen put her own creative twist on the traditional recipe by painstakingly peeling her apples into rosettes to create a gorgeous, red-tinged apple bouquet pattern – a design that took her more than two hours to prepare and won her first place in the contest.

Elaine Li of Crave and Capture used Karen’s great-grandmother’s recipe (at right), and also took on the challenge of recreating the apple rosettes that won Karen the contest. Photo by Elaine Li.

The win was the catalyst for Karen’s journey into the world of decorative pies. She got involved in organizing and promoting the contest with the Creemore BIA and the Farmers’ Market. (In late August the contest was expanded to include a pumpkin pie category.) Karen also started a Facebook group called the Pie Baking Group which now has 16,000 members who share their tips for decorative pies. “The group really is a wonderful community and helps their fellow bakers with any problems they run into,” explains Karen. “My mission is to bring the fun of baking pies to everyone and to test the limits of pie crust.”

If you don’t already have a favourite of your own, we’re sharing Karen’s great-grandmother’s basic recipe here (with tips on trying those rosettes if you’re keen), along with two others that may earn a spot in your family’s recipe archive.

What apples to work with? Most orchard owners – see our list of locations below – recommend using an apple that has a crisp texture or, even better, a mix of apples so your pie crust won’t get soggy during cooking. Gala, Cortland, Honeycrisp, Empire and Golden Delicious are popular choices usually available in September. You may have to wait until October for other stalwarts, including Northern Spy and Crispin/Mutsu.

According to Scott from Albion Orchards, Mother Nature “likes to keep farmers guessing,” so it’s best to check the orchards’ websites to see what’s in season – some will include descriptions of varieties to help you pick the level of tartness and sweetness you’re after. And for the pastry, use your favourite pastry recipe or (no shame) buy a premade crust or frozen dough.

Happy baking!

The Winner Bakes It All

At the Creemore Farmers’ Market Apple Pie Contest, the pies are judged based on five things: overall taste, flakiness of the crust, texture of the filling, appearance and the taste of the apples themselves. Getting these five factors right requires bakers to know how to bring all those things together in a beautiful and delicious masterpiece, says organizer Karen Scully.

A sprinkle of icing sugar tops the carefully arranged apple rosettes, by Elaine Li of Crave and Capture.

Photographer and recipe developer Elaine Li of Orangeville’s Crave and Capture took on the challenge of recreating Karen’s great-grandmother’s Dutch apple pie – plus Karen’s apple rosette technique – with beautiful results. The sauce sinks into the apples, creating a thick, almost pudding-like filling. (Unlike many Dutch apple pie recipes, this one does not have a crumb topping.)

Dutch Apple Pie

This is a single-crust pie that can be filled with apple wedges or apple rosettes, as shown in the picture above.

1 unbaked pie shell
5 to 6 small McIntosh or Spy apples peeled, cored and cut in eighths; or unpeeled and whole if making rosettes

To make rosettes, use a sharp paring knife or wide peeler to cut thin slices of an unpeeled apple, working in circles around the core from top to bottom.

Put the strips into a bowl with enough water to cover them and 1 tsp lemon juice to keep from browning. Place the strips peel edge up in an egg cup to help form the rose shapes before adding them to the pie.

1 cup brown sugar
3 tbsp flour
1 tsp cinnamon
½ cup 35% cream
1 tbsp butter

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Arrange apple wedges or rosettes in a circular pattern in the unbaked pie shell.

Mix sugar, flour and cinnamon. Stir in cream. Spoon this mixture over the apples, trying to get some of the sauce on all the apples. Dot the top with butter.

Bake for 60 to 75 minutes. McIntosh will bake for 60 minutes and Spy apples need 75 minutes.

Karen Scully’s Pie Pastry

Pastry for one double-crust pie.

2 ¾ cups flour
1 tsp salt
½ cup cold butter, cubed
½ cup cold shortening or lard, cubed
1 egg
1 tbsp vinegar
Cold water

Combine flour and salt in a food processor. Add butter to the food processor, pressing the cubes a little into the flour. Repeat with the shortening. (The butter is cold and harder, so you want it to hit the food processor blades first.)

Pulse the mixture several times, just until the mixture resembles large breadcrumbs or oatmeal flakes, with no cubes of butter or shortening visible.

Beat the egg lightly in a measuring cup. Add the vinegar, and then add water to bring the liquid measure to a ½ cup in total.

Note: If the food processor bowl is 8 cups or less, transfer the flour mixture to a stand mixer or a large bowl before adding liquid.

Add the ½ cup of liquid to the flour mixture in the food processor, pulse several times, just until the dough clings together. If using a stand mixer or a bowl, add the liquid a little at a time, using the paddle attachment on the mixer, or hand-mixing lightly with a fork, until the dough clings together (you may not need to use all the liquid), making sure there is no unmixed flour at the bottom of the bowl. Do not over mix.

Gather the dough into a ball, press into a disk and cover with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Roll out and fit into an 8″ or 9″ pie plate.

You will have more than you need for a single-crust recipe, but Karen encourages you to use the excess to experiment with making decorative accents, such as photographer Elaine Li has shown on these pages. Or reserve the excess for another purpose.

Bakers Gotta Bake

Spirit Tree Estate Cidery sells thin-crust oven pizza, artisanal bread, baked goodies and more than a dozen types of cider – but when autumn rolls around, it’s all about the pies. The baking team at Spirit Tree makes a whopping 700 pies or more every year from September to October, of which 70 per cent are apple or apple crumble.

Almost ready to head to the oven. Photo (and pie) by Elaine Li, Crave and Capture.

For their apple pie recipe, which they’ve graciously recalculated for home cooking, they recommend using Cortland, Ida Red or Wealthy, all of which are varieties that grow at their orchard. A dash of nutmeg adds an extra kick on top of the usual cinnamon.

Spirit Tree Apple Pie

Pastry for one double-crust pie
4 cups apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
¼ cup white sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Combine sliced apples with lemon zest and juice in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl combine sugars, cornstarch and spices. Add to apples and mix well. Pour apple mixture into prepared pie shell.

Cover top with pastry and crimp around the edges. Brush with egg wash if desired.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes until crust is golden and cake tester easily goes through apples.

Beyond Pie

Greg and Melissa Downey have their hands full every year tending not only to their apple orchards, but also the thousands of strawberry and raspberry canes growing at Downey’s Strawberry and Apple Farm, which has been in Greg’s family for many generations. Downey’s grows McIntosh, Cortland, Gala, Empire, Honeycrisp, Ambrosia, Golden Delicious, Jonagold, Mutsu, Northern Spy and Red Fuji.

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  • Growing up with rural roots in Waterloo County, Melissa learned how to bake traditional Mennonite Dutch apple pies from her grandmother. But she’s also created her own modern apple recipes that are super easy and fast to make. If you don’t have hours to spend in the kitchen, try this fun and convenient recipe. Yes, you read it correctly: It includes a citrus-adjacent hit of Mountain Dew pop.

    Apple Dumplings

    2 10 oz cans of refrigerated prerolled dough (like Pillsbury)
    2 large firm apples, peeled, cored and each cut into eight wedges
    ¾ cup butter
    1 cup packed brown sugar
    1 tsp ground cinnamon
    1 tsp vanilla
    ½ can of Mountain Dew

    Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 9 x 13 baking pan.

    Unroll the dough and separate into triangles. Roll each apple wedge in one triangle of dough. Place dumplings in a single layer, covering the bottom of the baking dish.

    In a small saucepan, melt the butter and stir in the brown sugar. Stir until the mixture thickens, then stir in the cinnamon and vanilla.

    Pour mixture over the dumplings. Pour the Mountain Dew around the edge of the pan.

    Bake for 35 to 45 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the pastry is golden brown. These can be enjoyed warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or cold.

    Autumn apple picking

    Caledon is our region’s hotspot for apple orchards for both u-pick and grab-and-go apples. Visit each site for operating hours and apple varieties.


    More Info

    How to enter the Creemore Apple & Pumpkin Pie Contest

    Think you’ve got what it takes? Enter your pie in the annual Creemore Farmers’ Market Apple & Pumpkin Pie Contest October 7 and let the judges decide! The organizers recently added a pumpkin pie category. For more info, visit their Facebook page: Creemore Farmers’ Market Apple & Pumpkin Pie Contests 2023.

    You must register by email at [email protected]. Then, bring your pie to the Creemore Farmers Market by 9 a.m. to be judged. There are two categories for each kind of pie – Junior Chef (aged 13 and under) and Skilled Chef – and prizes will be awarded in all.

    Make sure you also walk in with your appetite because all the pies will be cut and served after the competition has been judged! Sounds like a win-win situation.

    About the Author More by Emily Dickson

    Emily Dickson is a writer and editor living in Orangeville.

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