By: Jordan Tucker
From reading the title of this story, you probably assume that it’s about apple pies. Don’t worry, that’s what I thought it would be about too.
I’ve lived in small town Pennsylvania my entire life, and although I don’t intend to stay here forever, I’ve learned a lot growing up in a rural area. I’ve lived in my current house for 15 years. It has a huge backyard that houses my vegetable garden and a house for my dad’s quail. It also touches the edge of an extra large corn and soybean field that my farmer neighbor tends to throughout the year. I live with my mom, dad, and my younger brother, Brady, along with various animals such as pheasants, quail, dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, and the three wild turkeys that seem to always make themselves at home every fall.
Ever since the day we moved into my house, there have been two apple trees planted in my yard. They were planted 15 years ago by my dad and my uncle when we moved into our house. We got them from my Aunt Diane and Uncle Steve as a housewarming gift. At least that’s what they told us, although I’ve always had this suspicion that they were actually just trying to get rid of the trees and thought that we seemed like the perfect recipients of them for who knows what reason. These trees have served countless functions, from providing snacks for my horses to serving as a makeshift soccer goal and jungle gym for my brother and I growing up, because when you live in the middle of nowhere, as I do in rural Pennsylvania, you tend to get creative with entertainment options.
15 years it took my family, after staring at, walking past, and taking pictures of the same apple trees everyday to finally say, “gee, do you think maybe those apples are edible?” It was my mom who said this while she had her binoculars out and was looking at deer in the cornfield from our back deck. Deer and wildlife watching is something that us Berks County natives do for entertainment, similar to how normal people go shopping or eat things that aren’t weird animal intestines ground together (I’m talking to you, Scrapple). After doing some very intense research and printing off apple identification charts from the computer, it was officially concluded that, yes, those apples were, in fact, edible. You would’ve thought it was Christmas morning in my household when that discovery was made. My dad was like a small child running around the kitchen clapping his hands and proclaiming how much he loved apple pie (which we, of course, already knew). We have an ongoing joke in my house about my dad’s insane sweet tooth, and as a long-distance runner, his excuse is that calories don’t count when you run as much as he does. But now, finally, instead of just using our apples trees for entertainment purposes, we could use them to for food purposes as well (what a crazy idea!)
So, on a Saturday afternoon in the beginning of November, my family went to work to bake the perfect apple pie. My dad, stepladder in hand, trudged through the backyard to the apple trees, our Boston terriers, Biggsley and Murphy, trailing behind him. With a five gallon bucket on the ground, he picked as many apples as the bucket could hold and set the bucket on our back porch, where we would stare at them for a week until someone, my mom probably, decided that staring that them wouldn’t create pies, so we decided to bake them.
The apples themselves were…interesting. They were bright green, small, and shaped in the most interesting of ways. But, since we never took interest in them, we never sprayed them with anything, making them completely organic. As the environmentalist-foodie of my family, this made me most excited, whereas my brother equated organic with healthy, and instantly was convinced that the apple pies would be terrible (because that’s just how 15 year old boys’ brains work).
I should probably mention that my parents are not bakers. My mom manages to burn Pillsbury “Break-and-Bake” cookies, and my dad has just never attempted to bake anything in his life. Luckily for them, they have me (I remind them of their luck quite often). I’m a pretty good baker, if I do say so myself. My grandmother is also a great baker, and my mom always jokes that the baking gene passed over her and went right to me. I think the reason I enjoy baking so much is because it’s always able to bring me back to my childhood, baking in my grandmother’s kitchen. Every year on my birthday, my grandmother would assist me in baking and decorating my own birthday cake, which I looked forward to every year. So my first thought with baking the pie was crust, we need crust, the base of every great apple pie. But what kind of crust did we want or need? The only crusts I had ever made were the simple graham cracker, and the even simpler frozen crust that only involved defrosting. So, thanks to the Internet, we pulled the ingredients together, and laid out a beautiful apple pie crust. Into the pie plate it went and then it was time for the celebrity of the pie; the apples.
The realization that we would have to peel quite a few apples without an apple peeler really put a damper on the entire process, but luckily super heroes come in the form of grandmothers who show up to your house with 30 year old apple peelers that make apple pie making so much more appealing. So we peeled apples. And then we peeled more apples, and then…we peeled even more apples. It took forever.
After the peeling, the apples were sliced into thin slices, mixed with cinnamon, sugar, lemon juice, and flour and thrown into the patiently waiting piecrust. We topped each pie (there were 6 total) with the top layer of piecrust. Since we were going to be giving most of these pies away to family and friends, it was decided that each pie would be customized for whomever would be receiving them. For my aunt Diane we cut out a piece of pie dough that said, “Dr.D,” because that’s what we call her for her love of all things medical, and placed the letters on top of the pie. For my Aunt Bonnie, a breast cancer survivor, we thought a piece of breast cancer ribbon shaped pie dough would be fitting for the top of her pie.
After topping the pies with their appropriate crusts, they were put into the oven to bake. “Seriously, how long does it take to make a pie?” my brother whined while he stared into the oven. His patience is bad, but my dad’s is even worse. As soon as the pies were finally pulled from the oven, my dad was digging into one, burning his mouth along the way. “This is so worth it,” he mumbled through a mouthful of molten hot apple pie while my mom laughed and rolled her eyes.
Fast forward to one whole day after our pie distribution, and my aunt Diane called me, like she does every week to update me on her life, but this time I answered my phone and the first thing she said was “Why didn’t you discover those apple trees sooner? That was the best pie I’ve ever eaten.” I call that a win.
A few weeks before our apple pie baking, October 5th, to be exact, my mom had a heart attack. She complained of chest pains, but as a very active 45-year-old runner, the idea of a heart attack never actually crossed her mind. She was admitted to the cardiology floor of the hospital for four days while tests were done to find out what exactly caused the heart attack, since her arteries were clear and her health was almost perfect. It’s safe to say that my family was terrified, and shocked with what had happened to her. She was released under the condition that she took a few weeks off of work, and spent time relaxing. Flash forward to the following week when she had her second heart attack while I was sitting next to her in church. Two heart attacks in two weeks without a pinpointed cause had my whole family in complete disbelief. Back to the hospital she went and this time even more tests were done where it was determined that her heart attacks were caused by a torn artery and there was nothing they could do for it except for medication and rest. Halfway through the current semester, and I almost lost my mom not once, but twice. I’m more grateful than ever for the fact that she is healing very well, and apple pie baking was one of the first “active” things that we did together after her heart attacks. So, looking around during apple pie baking, with my family joking around, like usual, I was overcome with appreciation for the people that I have in my life, more than ever. You never realize how much you need a person, until you almost lose them, and I never realized how much I needed my family, until one of them was almost gone.
My apple trees have taught me some cool things since I’ve acknowledged their existence a few months ago. When we planted them 15 years ago, they were small and scraggly, and I remember my dad saying something along the line of, “ I doubt they’ll survive winter.” It didn’t look promising for them for a while, but they’ve survived 15 Pennsylvania winters, and they’re still going strong. They’ve grown from small, scraggly little trees, into leafy, healthy trees that not only provide apples, but also provide shade, bird housing, and the occasional deer snack. The apples that we were unsure about for so long, taught me that sometimes everything you need to build a strong apple pie, is right in front of you (or right in your backyard). The dented, misshapen, bright green apples prove that sometimes the best things in life aren’t aesthetically appealing, but when you get past the not-so-pretty peel, you are greeted with the sweet joy of perfect apple pie. I’m sad that I didn’t discover my apple trees sooner, but part of me also believes that there was a reason I discovered them at the point in my life when I did. It brought my family together at a time when we needed to laugh, and needed to love, which is exactly what we did on apple pie day.
Below you will find a recipe for the perfect apple pie. You can use apples from your own apple tree, or store bought baking apples, either way the pie will taste only as good as the fun you have making it (more fun equates to a better pie, it’s science). Keep the pie for yourself or give it to family and friends to show how grateful you are to have them with you.
Perfect Apple Pie
-2 cups all-purpose flour
-1 tsp. Salt
-2/3 cup of butter
-5-7 tbsp. cold water
Directions: Put the flour and butter into a mixing bowl, and cut them together using a pastry cutter. Add salt and water to the flour and butter, and mix all ingredients together until dough is formed. Roll out two rounds of piecrust and place one in your pie plate.
-6 cups of thinly sliced, peeled apples
-3/4 cup of granulated sugar
-2 tbsp. all purpose flour
-3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
-1/4 tsp. salt
-1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
-1 tbsp. lemon juice
Directions: Mix filling ingredients together in a large bowl. Scoop filling into pie plate. Top pie plate with second crust round and pinch around the sides to seal the top and bottom crusts together. Cut slits in several places on top of the crust. Take any remaining crust you may have, and create shapes to stick to the top of the pie for fun decorations. Bake 40-45 minutes. Cool for at least 3 hours before serving.