It’s pie season! Pies are great all year round, but autumn is when these treats get their time in the spotlight. No holiday feast would be complete without a pie. It is a “must” for American holiday meals. My annual pie anticipation starts when pumpkins begin to overtake the market entry aisles. For me, pumpkins are only good for two things: jack-o-lanterns and pies. I’m sure pumpkins are great in other recipes (I’ve had a really good pumpkin risotto once), but it definitely is my least favorite squash. Who doesn’t love a great pumpkin pie?
In the pantheon of pies there are indisputable all-time greats. You have your cherry, pecan, key lime, blueberry, strawberry-rhubarb, chicken pot, and anything else your grandmother took the time to write out the recipe for on an index card. However, the real all-time American Champion is the apple pie. The filling of slightly tart apples cooked just right: soft, but still crisp somehow, not too sweet, with a flaky, buttery crust and spices that remind you of the holidays. The smell of a freshly baked apple pie has the aroma of all that the holidays represent: gratitude, kindness, and hope.
While apple pies may seem commonplace to most, it was something I never tried until I came to America. There were apples in the Philippines but they were a luxury, and cooking them was a crazy thing to even consider. Apples weren’t grown in the Philippines. Even Northern Luzon, the coldest part of the country isn’t cold enough to grow this exotic fruit. They were probably imported from China or Japan, making it unaffordable to many people. It was a special treat for us, for sure. My grandmother only bought them during Christmas and for the New Year. My sister, cousins, and I shared these very expensive, slightly bruised apples with utmost delight and gratitude. But when it came to dessert, coconut pies, egg custard pies, ube cakes, and sticky rice happily nourished my childhood. My grandmother always had some sort of sticky rice desserts sprinkled with coconut sugar at her house. Coconut pies were my favorites, though. The chunks of fresh young coconut meat make this pie special. It is not a custard-based pie but more of a creamy filling, thickened by cornstarch. The filling is baked in flaky, buttery dough. To this day I would choose a buko [coconut] pie over any other. During my recent cravings for Pinoy food, I researched buko pie in Los Angeles and found one at Sari Sari Store at Grand Central Market in DTLA. Its look was close to what I remember, and the flavor satisfied my palate and provided a short-term fix to the feeling of homesickness for my birth country…but mostly the longing for my grandparents.
My first apple pie was probably from McDonald’s, and I’m quite sure that I enjoyed it very much, despite its decidedly non-traditional format. My sisters and I arrived in the U.S.A on October 6, 1989. We lived in a nice cozy apartment in a very nice neighborhood in South Carolina called Lake Wylie. The first couple of weeks at our new home were lonely, as my mom was working, seemingly all the time. We would watch way too much Nickelodeon, bingeing on US TV classics. On some afternoons, my sisters and I would trek down a path to the nearest shopping area. We would either go to Dairy Queen (where I had my first chili cheese dog), or McDonald’s, where for the first time in my life a Big Mac was just a meal, and not a special occasion treat. My sisters and I wore our L.L. Bean coats and boots from our step grandmother during these food hikes. She lived in Alabama and had sent us good quality winter clothes weeks before our plane touched ground in Charlotte. We met her just after Thanksgiving in 1989. It was at her home in Anniston, Alabama where I had my first real apple pie. She served it a la mode. It was divine. Mama Doris, as she was called, was a fantastic cook. I learned from her how to macerate strawberries. She was always proud to tell you that she’d had several recipes published in Southern Living magazines, too.
Apples of all kinds are now part of my weekly grocery list. I am now able to tell most varieties by looks and taste. I eat them on their own as a snack or as a sidekick on my cheeseboard. I will always be grateful for the apple for many reasons. I am thankful for its many uses in cooking. I am thankful that it is one of the few fruits I could easily put in my son’s daily lunch box and know he would eat it. I am grateful for the memories with my grandparents from two sides of the earth brought by the apple. To me, the apple is reminiscent of a childhood that is humble but full of love. The apple is a reminder of how far we’ve come, too. I can now have a bruise-free, locally grown apple any time…I no longer have to wait for Christmas or the New Year to enjoy it.
Some of the best pies I’ve had in the last couple of years were from one of our very own Disney chefs. Chef Sidoe of Grand Central Café is particularly talented in this way. Her Apple Pie is one of my all-time favorites. Her pies are so good they have been known to mend relationship riffs, calm an irritated landlord or two, and cheer up depressed houseguests.
Chef Sidoe was generous enough to share with us her recipe for apple pie. Please enjoy, and let’s all be thankful for good pies!
CLICK HERE to download chef Sidoe’s recipe.