Recipe: Marlborough Pie

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A firm-tart Calville Blanc

Amy Traverso, who calls herself  “a complete apple nerd,” shared this recipe from her Apple Lover’s Cookbook.  Marlborough Pie dates back to the 1600s, and it uses sherry, nutmeg, and a combination of shredded firm-sweet and firm-tart apples.

Not comfortable with your apple varieties? Read below for some tips from Traverso, and of course, for her recipe.

Click here to enter YOUR delicious pie (or pies) in the 4th Annual Good Food Pie Contest on Saturday, September 8th at LACMA.

The Apple Lover’s Cookbook includes a list of apple varieties that particularly suit pies. What are some of these varieties and why are they good for pies?

When I started working on  the book, I realized there were two problems inherent in writing recipes for apples. First, some varieties, like Granny Smith, are very tart and some, like Golden Delicious, are very sweet, so a recipe will taste very different depending on which ones you use. Also, different varieties react very differently to heat. McIntosh turn to mush (and make a great sauce), while Northern Spy hold up beautifully. So to make cooking easier, I divided about 60 varieties into different categories based on their tartness and their firmness.

For apple pie, I like a mix of firm-tart and firm-sweet apples. So for firm-tart apples, I’d recommend Northern Spy, Newtown Pippin, Arkansas Black, Calville Blanc, Rhode Island Greening, Roxbury Russet, Sierra Beauty (a wonderful California apple), and Stayman Winesap. If you can’t find any of those, you can always stick with a Granny Smith. For firm-sweet apples, Gravenstein, Jonagold, Golden Delicious, and Ginger Gold will all work well. Using firm apples will give you a beautiful pie with defined chunks of apple.

And combining varieties will give you richer flavor. In fact, if the more the merrier. Why not get the whole spectrum of spicy, citrusy, honey, nutty, vegetal flavors? But if you’re keen to do a single-variety pie, any of these will work well, though Golden Delicious and Ginger Gold can be a bit bland.

The Marlborough Pie recipe calls for shredded apples. Does shredding change the flavor at all?

No, it just breaks the flesh down into tiny pieces that can be suspended in the custard. Marlborough pie has such a long history, going back to the mid-1600s at least. It became very popular here in the States once sugar was made more widely available. And yet it’s a novelty to most contemporary cooks. Who would think to put apples and custard together?

What’s the most effective way to core and slice an apple?

Forget trying to peel the skin off in a long ribbon. It’s a waste of time. First, use an apple corer to remove the stem, core, and seeds. Then use your peeler to remove the skin around the top of the apple in a circle, just to the “shoulders.” Do the same for the bottom. Next, remove the skin from the sides in a top-to-bottom motion, turning the fruit as you go. Working this way, you can blow through ten apples in just a few minutes. Then you can slice the fruit into wedges or chunks for pie, or rings for apple crisp.