Mary Ann's Blog

The Apple of My Pies

It won’t be long now until the first frost and even though my garden is still going strong (minus the tomatoes) I am thinking pies!

Up the hill near my vegetable garden stands an ornery, old apple tree, the only one I own. For years before I bought the property, it had been neglected until one day I stooped to pick up a withered apple near its trunk. Curiosity got the best of me so I cut off the “bad spots,” and took a bite. I was pleasantly surprised. Here was the taste of apples I remembered growing up: crisp,tart and juicy with a slight taste of  honey. It looked like a Yellow Delicious but it had red and orange stripes on the skin. I decided to have it analyzed. It turned out to be an old German Gravenstein variety.

So, naturally I got to working on the tree, pruning it, spraying it, praying over it, and hoping it would forgive the years of neglect and shower us with love in the form of a bushel of apples. No such luck. But it does provide a profusion of perfumed white flowered branches each spring and a shady spot to sit under on a hot summer day. But, when I want to make an apple pie, I buy my favorites from the local farmers market.

Today we can find a dizzying array of apples, from apples to munch on to apples to bake with. I am partial to Cortland and Northern Spy both of which are good for pies, apple cakes and apple sauce. Apples for baking need to be firm not soft so they hold up. For apple pie use Northern Spy mixed with Cortland, Granny Smith or Rhode Island Greening.

One of my favorite fall pies is apple and fig.  What’s yours?

My new method for baking any kind of crusted pie or crumb top pie is to put it in a large brown paper bag like the ones from the grocery store. Close the bake with paper clips and bake! You will have a beautifully browned pie with no burn marks along the crust and your oven will stay clean too!

Apple Fig Pie

Apple PieFilling

8 dried figs, stemmed
8 large Cortland, Northern Spy or Granny Smith  apples, peeled, and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Pinch black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cold butter cut into bits

Olive Oil Pie Dough

1 ½ cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
Scant 1/2 cup light olive oil
2 tablespoons cold water

Crumb Topping

½ cup unbleached all purpose flour
½ cup brown sugar
7 tablespoons frozen unsalted butter, grated on a cheese grater
½ cup slivered almonds

Place the figs in a bowl and cover them with warm water. Allow them to plump up for 20 minutes. Drain off the water and cut the figs into small pieces.

Combine the apple slices in a large bowl with the figs and lemon juice. In a smaller bowl, mix together the sugar, cinnamon, cloves, pepper and salt.
Pour the sugar mixture over the apple mixture and coat them well. Set aside while you make the dough.

Mix the flour, salt and sugar together in a bowl or the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pour the oil slowly into the bowl or through the food processor feed tube with the motor running. Combine until the mixture is coarse and looks like uncooked oatmeal. Add the water a little at a time until a smooth ball of dough is formed. Do not add too much water or the dough will be tough. Just enough so that the dough holds together. Gather the dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.

Preheat the oven to 375F

On a lightly floured board surface, roll out the dough and line a 9 x 2 - inch pie plate. Crimp the edges. Spread the filling into the crust, packing it in well.  Dot the filling with the butter.

In a bowl combine the topping ingredients; do not mash the grated butter. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the filling.

Place the pie in a large brown paper bag and close it with some staples or paper clips. Place the bag on a baking sheet and bake for about 1 hour.

Remove the bag from the oven and carefully cut open the bag with a pair of scissors.  Let the pie cool, then remove from the bag.


  1. gingk's avatar


    I live in No. Calif. and have a huge Gravenstein tree that produces about 5 bushels a year. I will ship some to you next year, though they only last a week or two. Just let me know. Love your show.
  2. Jeffrey's avatar


    I used to work with somebody who used the brown bag method. Others tried it with mixed results, but I saw a show on the ultimate apple pie on the Food Network, and the bakers put each in a brown bag before baking. I put my oven rack on the lowest level, and pre-heat a pizza pan on the rack. I put the pie (fruit, not custard by this method) to bake on the pizza pan, and the heat goes right to the bottom, helping to cook both the bottom crust and the filling.
  3. mary Ann Esposito's avatar

    mary Ann Esposito

    Love Gravenstein and thank you for thinking of me!
  4. Phyllis's avatar


    My husband & I love to watch your show. This past week-end I watched you as you made the Neopolitan Rice Pie (using wheat berries).

    For years I have been looking for this recipe (my grandmother made it when I was very young (at Easter time) and no-one kept the recipe). I was so excited to see you did have this recipe.
    I searched on your website for "neopolitan rice pie" ... that is what you called it. However, my search could not find it. I would love for you to either post it on your website, or possible e-mail it to me.

    You are terrific
  5. mary Ann Esposito's avatar

    mary Ann Esposito

    Phyllis the recipe for Rice pie is on the site type in pastiera and it will take you there.
  6. marcel's avatar


    Just wanted to say thank you for all that you do. I love to cook and after every show I am inspired to get in the kitchen and cook ,lol.

    Finally made the time today to experiment with a recipe I saw you make a while back and didn't think it could be as easy as you made it look. Whole wheat pizza crust ! I am always looking to make healthier dishes and for me pizza was hard to improve because of the white bread crust.

    I am happy to say my first test was a success. Much better than the last mess I made a couple months ago.( someone else's recipe) I hope to one day be able to make it like you but for now I am satisfied that I have a recipe in my arsenal I can trust.

    I also caught your homemade Italian sausage episode this week. Guess what's next on my list ? Lol. Here in another month or so there will be fresh hogs slaughtered and I intend on getting a couple butts to make my sausage. I also cold pack pork tenderloin from fresh local hogs. I don't know if you're familiar with the process but its becoming a lost art with the newer generation.

    Enough of me blabbering on for now.

    Again think you for all that you do !!!!!


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