Saturday, 15 September 2007

Apple pie (Μηλόπιτα)

Right up until I left New Zealand, there was a fresh produce market on Tory St, Wellington. When I was young, my parents would often shop for fresh produce from there. I couldn't really understand what attracted them to an open-air market, when they could be shopping inside a comfortable supermarket in one of the shopping malls that were sprouting all over the city at the time. It was only when I came to live in Greece that I realised why they liked the open-air market: it resembled the laiki, the open-air mobile street markets that take place every day of the week in different parts of every city in Greece. A flash of images of the Tory St market inundate my mind: the smell at the fishmonger's, lamb carcasses hanging off figure-of-eight hooks, Pacific Islanders selling large root vegetables which my mother would peer at out of curiosity, and then back away as if she'd seen a mouse when the smiling stallholder said: "Yes, please?" I vivdly remember truckloads of apples being rolled off into some kind of vat which had a door on one side. The operator would lift this hatch and the apples would pour out into plastic bags marked "New Zealand Apple and Pear Marketing Board", each weighing 5 kilos. My favorite variety was the grannysmith. I really miss New Zealand apples; here in Crete, apples never seem to taste crisp and juicy, and worst of all, they are even sold bruised in the supermarket. My husband says it's because apples are stored inappropriately. In any case, apple trees thrive in cold climates, and the island of Crete is just too warm right throughout the year to make it an ideal place to keep apples for a long time. New Zealand apples can be found in Crete, but I’d be defeating the purpose by buying them, being mindful of my carbon footprints (I’m much more tempted by New Zealand Zespri kiwifruit).

Although I don't normally store apples in the fridge, I found four lurking in the back part of one of the vegetable compartments. But these were bought some time in June, and since apples tend to go soft and brown in hot weather, I thought I'd store them in a cooler place. Because of the great variety of fruit available in summer, the apples did not get eaten. When I cleaned out the vegetable bin, seeing the apples just gave me the winter blues, because I felt I'd wasted good money on something no one wanted to eat, but I didn't have the heart to throw them out. I decided to make apple pie with them. What I can't believe is how delicious the pie is, despite using last season's apples! (Another way to use up 'bad' apples is to make a delicious apple cake with them.)

I always thought this was a difficult dish to make, what with kneading dough and shaping pastry cases. I don't believe in wasting time in the kitchen, as I spend more than enough time in there in the first place, so my recipes must be quick and easy. I made the first recipe I came across in a google search from dltk-teach; it really was quick and easy. I used a mixture of white and brown flour for health reasons. For the pie dish that i was using, 4 apples were more than enough. The aroma of cooking apples sharpened my maternal instincts; my children's faces made me melt as they came into the kitchen and the smell hit them.

For the filling, you need:
1/3 to 2/3 cup sugar
a fistful of all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
4 large apples
Peel, core and slice the apples. Try to keep the size of the slices even. Mix sugar, flour, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt in large bowl. Stir in apples. Heat oven to 425 degrees.

For the pastry, you need:
2 1/2 cups white flour
2 tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup cold butter, broken into small pieces (use only margarine for lenten fare)
5 tbsp. cold margarine
8 tbsp. cold water
Measure the flour, sugar and salt together. Stir to combine. Add the chilled butter pieces and margarine to the bowl. Cut them in with a pastry cutter or knife. Don't over mix them. Add the water. Mix until the dough holds together (add a bit more water, if necessary). Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface, knead it together, then divide in half. Flatten each half into a disk, wrap in saran wrap and chill for at least half an hour. Roll out one of the disks on a lightly floured surface until you have a circle that's about 12 inches in diameter. Put the circle in a 9" pie plate, trimming any extra dough from the edges. Pour the apple mixture into the pastry-lined pie plate. Dot with 2 tablespoons margarine. Cover with top crust and seal the edges. Cut slits in the top. Cover with aluminum foil to prevent too much browning. Remove foil during last 15 minutes of baking. Bake 40 to 50 minutes or until crust is brown and juice begins to bubble through slits in crust.

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