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Jack Zaleski, Published September 08 2012

Zaleski: Aunty Marie’s marvelous apple pies

The early apple season in North Dakota and Minnesota stirred thoughts of all things apple in my childhood in southern New England: homemade applesauce and apple butter; ripe apples, crisp, juicy and sweet right off the trees; and later in the season, apple cider with just the right tang and tartness, squeezed through juice-stained oak presses in the old sheds of nearby ancient orchards.

But it was the pies. Omigod, the pies. Aunty Marie made the best apple pie ever, to the chagrin of my mom, who could whip up a middlin’-good apple pie but nothing like Marie’s heavenly creations. It was the apples, Marie said, and the crust. Mess up on either, she said, and you don’t get a great pie.

She used lard and/or butter to make a flaky, tasty, melt-in-your-mouth pie crust. She favored Baldwin or McIntosh apples, two classic varieties seldom seen today. She timed her trips to the orchards to select apples just shy of full ripe. Firmer, she said. No more than $2 a bushel, if I remember. She stored the apples in her cold cellar, and most years they’d hold quality into late winter.

Her secret was to go very light on sugar – brown, not refined white. Sometimes cinnamon, sometimes nutmeg, sometimes both infused her pies with flavors of marvelous subtlety and kitchen-filling aromas.

The new pies would cool for a while on her kitchen table, and then it was time. My sister and I would add a dollop of heavy whipped cream or homemade vanilla ice cream or (my uncle’s favorite) a generous slice of sharp cheddar. It could get no better.

Apple-pickin’ was a ritual of fall that started with early varieties and lasted until the first hard freeze. Whether pressing for cider in a drafty barn or stirring up spices for apple butter in a steamy, friendly kitchen, it was a good time. And the most memorable treat of all was a wedge (or two) of Aunty Marie’s incredible apple pie.

Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521.