A Samhain Trip Down Memory Lane via Food

Some of my favorite Samhains I’ve ever had were those I spent with my college friends.  Back when we were all at DePauw, we usually went out to a cemetery and played “Ghosts in the Graveyard” and did a few other spooky things before heading back home for a dinner party (complete with our traditional “Ghosts in the Graveyard” cake) and a ritual.  When we graduated, though, we only had a couple Samhains together before jobs and life spread us to all corners of the country.  My favorite was the first: the night of a thousand disasters.

I remember that we were at Natalie and Allen’s apartment, and that it was one of the first real “grown up” parties they were hosting, and that some of Natalie’s family was coming so our stakes were high.  We planned a whole menu that was really quite fancy and where everything was specially chosen.  And the pièce de résistance was to be an apple pie, but not just any apple pie: Tyler Florence’s Caramel Apple Pie.  Now, maybe Natalie will correct me, but my memory is that this pie just about killed us.  We were not unskilled in the kitchen, but none of us were all that confident in our pie-making abilities, so we followed the instructions for this one to the letter.  But it took forever to make (easily double the prep + cooking time listed), made a huge mess in Natalie’s postage stamp kitchen, and when we finally cut into it, we found that under the gorgeous top crust was a bunch of half-cooked apples swimming in a liquid so abundant that it had dissolved the bottom crust.

And you know what?  I haven’t made another apple pie in the intervening decade.  Or pretty much any pie that can’t be made in a crumb crust.  It traumatized me.  Cutting into it flooded Natalie and Allen’s kitchen with sticky juice, and cleaning everything up pushed ritual so late that I’m pretty sure me and at least one other person crashed on their sofas before scooting off to work the next morning.

The thing is, I love apple pie, and I think that it is perfect for Samhain…especially when anything “pork” is on the menu.  It’s also been tugging on my hard this year.  My grandfather passed a few years ago, and he’s the only one person I have ever been close to who has, in fact, died.  And it is unreal how badly I miss him at times, and how much I wish he was here.  He was a career teacher, and I think that he probably would have been the only person in my family who would understand all the job-related stress I’ve been going through these past couple of years.  And Grandpa *loved* apple pie.  Around this time of year, it wasn’t uncommon for him and Grandma to buy bushels and bushels of the things at the orchards down the mountain.  And during apple time, they probably ate a slab pie between them every day (basically a bunch of apples thrown in the bottom of a 9×13 with one crust draped across the top…surprisingly light in calories, actually).  So this year when my coven leader told me that they were doing a pork loin roast, I found myself reaching for the apples I’d brought back from that very same orchard when I visited the family mountain a few weeks ago.

 But with memories of the horrific apple soup, I specifically searched out recipes that minimized liquid, and I think I found a winner in Serious Eats’ Gooey Apple Pie.  Unlike the tragic Florence recipe which uses thinly sliced raw apples, this one uses thicker chunks that are parcooked, then cooled before adding.  This basically means that the pectin in the apples has time to set and hold the apple’s shape and moisture, whereas in the Florence recipe, the pectin rushes out with all the juices when the cell walls start collapsing at the higher heat and basically leaves you with apple soup.

The pie turned out wonderfully (though I probably could have left it in a bit longer or done something to help the bottom brown).  I did make a couple changes from the recipe, though.  I used 2 tablespoons of cake spice (a mix of cinnamon, star anise, nutmeg, allspice, ginger and clove) when I just needed 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon…because I totally misread the recipe.  The other thing I did not do was transfer my sous vide apples to a Dutch oven to thicken the liquid.  Instead, I poured the liquid into a saucepan and thickened it separately.  What I should have then done was tossed the apples in that, but instead I just poured the cooled sauce over the cooled apples in the pie crust.  The sauce went through all the apples as the pie baked, and the modification really cut down on the amount of time it took to cool the apples.

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My own gooey apple pie.  It is the prettiest pie I’ve ever made.

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