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Thursday, February 13, 2014

10

Winter Survival: Almanzo Wilder’s Apple Pie

There were preserves and jams and jellies and doughnuts. But best of all, Almanzo liked the spicy apple pie, with its thick, rich juice and crumbly crust. He ate two big wedges of the pie.Farmer Boy, 1933

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The apple pie looked delicious, its homemade lard and flour crust glistening and golden.

“Is this one of those desserts you made for your pioneer food experiment?” Sam asked, poking it. He took a small bite. “It tastes…oh, it tastes good!”Consultant, 2014

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Today is Almanzo Wilder’s 157th birthday, so let’s indulge Laura Ingalls Wilder’s hardworking and stoic husband with a hearty treat. I chose the spicy apple pie because Almanzo liked it so much. I trust Almanzo, because with a name like that, you know he had to develop a good personality. (Plus, apple pie sounded much more appealing than vinegar pie, another recipe found in the Little House Cookbook, Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Classic Stories.)

For pie crust:
1 ¼ cup white flour
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup lard
½ teaspoon butter

For filling:
1 lemon
2 pounds tart apples
¾ cup brown sugar
3 tsp flour
ground cinnamon
ground cloves
ground nutmeg
1 tbsp butter
heavy cream

For the crust: Chill all ingredients and bowl in refrigerator (or on ice, for authenticity). Rinse hands in cold water and dry them. Prepare a cup of ice water. Spoon the lard into the flour and blend with the fingers (not warm palms) until the mixture is uniformly course. Continue to toss as you add 3 tablespoons of ice water.

“Are you okay with making pie crust with lard and flour and mixing it with your fingers?” I asked Rachel, my trusty friend from Wisconsin.

“Yes.”

“Do you know what lard is?”

“Of course I do! You know how? The f-ing Little House on the Prairie cookbook taught me when I was 8!”

Lard is easy to find inside supermarket chains in London, where we live, and significantly easier to get than what the Ingallses had to do: butcher the pig and then boil it. (Before you ask, the pig bladder is not essential to this recipe.) 

Rachel successfully completed this task, rendering lard bits and flour into a cohesive, fatty dough in 10 minutes. As stated, be sure to not get your warm palms into the dough mix, lest it melts the lard too quickly. Roll into a ball and place the dough in your wooden icebox (refrigerator) until needed.

Scrape the skin of a lemon to create lemon zest. Set aside and then halve the lemon and squeeze the juice into a bowl. With a fork, not with a juicer (the recipe is strict about this—it is essential that you squirt lemon juice all over your hands to get this part right).

Peel, core and slice apples. We used Bramley apples, a slightly sour green apple.

There was some dispute as to how Laura would have sliced these apples—practical chunks or sophisticated thin slices. Chunks won in the end, because Laura had more important things to do, like stacking hay, sewing sheets and mooning over Almanzo. (Who can blame her?)

Toss the apple pieces in the lemon juice.

Line the pie pan with the dough, then begin layering the pie filling, beginning with apple chunks, followed by brown sugar and flour. Repeat until the ingredients are used up. Sprinkle the spices and lemon zest over the top and then cover the pie with the top crust. We used a lattice pattern, because aesthetically it is beautiful and also we ran out of the lard dough.

Bake the pie in the oven at 425 degrees for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 30-35 minutes more, until crust is brown.

If you forget to reduce the heat when you are supposed to, as I did, find comfort in asking yourself, how accurate could the Ingalls oven really be? Back then, they increased the oven heat by burning different types of wood. (FYI: oak and walnut for a bright fire and birch, poplar or green hardwood for a slow one, in case this still applies to you.)

Serve with heavy cream.

Verdict: The apple pie was delicious and tart. One taster loved the filling but disliked the lard pastry—it was too heavy for their taste. The pie is not as sweet as the current norm, but I found the lemon juice, tart apples and brown sugar to be the perfect ratio, proving that some dishes don’t need a long evolution to be delicious. This pie goes perfectly with a re-reading of The Long Winter—especially if you are living through your own this year—as the apple and pastry are warm and filling.

I encourage you to make this for the Almanzo or Almanza in your life. May they, like the pie's namesake, be the kind of person to venture into the severe South Dakota winter to fetch 60 bushels of grain for you and your starving neighbors. That's love.

 

Previously: Laura Ingalls Wilder's Birthday Cake, Every Meal Almanzo Eats in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy

Jessica and Rachel’s book, Graduates in Wonderland (Gotham), an epistolary memoir about living in Beijing and Paris, is out in May and available now for pre-order. It also contains all of their intimate secrets. Find other general nonsense here.



10 Comments / Post A Comment

ohpioneer

Just gotta say it... Almanzo Wilder always was and will remain to be an undeniable babe.

Dirty Hands

@ohpioneer Yep, I got totally sidetracked when I was supposed to scroll past that photo of Almanzo. Supposed to.

Leslie Popplewell

@ohpioneer Also, so sweet and gentle to the animals. Must have been a very nice guy. And, I have thought about all those nights Almanzo and Laura had together, leaving the homestead at night to go riding over the prarie-- AND when Laura learns that she is pregnant (again?) she smiles and thinks that "those who dance must pay the piper." Must have been some very nice dancing together.

Tafadhali

@ohpioneer I read Farmer Boy so many times as a child and now that I've seen a picture of him, I am like, "Those were good instincts." Because dang.

stavros

Can't get enough of this.@m

Kevin Lewis@facebook

The pig bladder ball! Everything used to be icky. Except maybe the pie. Though lard. Ugh.

Jill Pioter@facebook

I always thought that Almanzo going to fetch that wheat was incredibly foolhardy. He did it not to save the townspeople, but to protect his OWN seed wheat. When he wanted to protect his own wheat, Laura wrote it as a terribly noble gesture. But when that settler in the middle of nowhere wanted to protect HIS wheat, it was implied that the guy was selfish and a bit nutty. I mean, yes it was great that Almanzo and Cap got the wheat and saved the town, but he didn't do it out of selflessness.

Clearly I think too much about such things.

wealhtheow

@Jill Pioter@facebook

In the books (idk about reality), Almanzo was caught between a rock and a hard place. He could sell his seed wheat to the town, thus saving their lives but hurting his own farm. Or he could save his seed wheat for the next planting, and have to watch the townsfolk starve. Buying other wheat meant he could avoid both bad prospects of watching the townsfolk starve or hurting his next harvest. I think Almanzo and Cap were very unselfish, in that they didn't make a single cent off of their dangerous journey.

But I do agree that Laura is weirdly hypocritical in her contrast of Almanzo and the other homesteader, neither of whom wanted to give up their wheat.

stonefruit

This is great, but you kind of buried the lede here:

(Before you ask, the pig bladder is not essential to this recipe.)

Emily Scott Robinson@facebook

A gem in the Amazon reviews of this cookbook:

Kelly Kathleen says "I admit that while reading about these recipes I probably wasn't going to make them, but I did enjoy thinking about making them."

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