Great Apple Pie Starts With the Apples
A rainbow of apples
Choosing the Best Apple for Pies
A great apple pie starts with the apples. As a child growing up in apple rich West Michigan, I heard the phrase "great apple pie starts with the apples" from mother, aunts and grandmothers every autumn. Of course these were homemade, from scratch pies. One of my grandmothers was an exceptional pastry/pie crust maker and made it a point to use the best fruit available for her masterpieces, be it apples, cherries, peaches, blueberries, pumpkin, mince or rhubarb.
With the ready availability of frozen or storemade pies over the years, many people have never attempted making a pie, and so when they do and it doesn't meet their expectations, they may feel as though the effort that it takes isn't worth it. And that's a shame, because baking can be not only a way of providing treats for family and friends, but is used by many people as therapy, a way to work out frustrations and stress...and it makes the house smell wonderful!
The end result...perfection!
The important things that make a good pie apple are texture, flavor and tartness. Because of the amount of sugar that's used in pie making, the tarter apples will hands down produce a better overall flavor. No one wants to bite into an applesauce pie, so texture and the ability of the apple slices to maintain their shape are critical to not only palatability, but also presentation.
There was only one apple for the perfect apple pie in our family...the Northern Spy, a very large, tart and hard apple. Sliced thin and piled high in the pie pan, it will not mush or lose it's shape even as the apples cook down. And the flavor is supreme! Nowadays, we have a couple of newer apple varieties that also work very well for pies. The Granny Smith stands out for it's taste and texture.
There are of course other varieties that will make a decent pie. MacIntosh, Cortland, Winesap, Ida Red, etc. The one to absolutely avoid is the Red Delicious. It is NOT a baking apple. It's mealy texture and to be quite honest, lack of flavor make it THE apple to avoid in pie making. Even the Yellow Delicious makes an acceptable pie, because it's texture and flavor are radically different than the Red.
I hope if you have never (or haven't for sometime) baked a pie that you will give it a try. There's nothing better than a warm homemade apple pie sitting on the sill, cooling and filling the home with it's wonderful cinnamony/apple scent. And you just may find that apple pie making is an enjoyable use of an hour or two.