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David Lee: It's easy as (apple) pie to celebrate the season

Everyone has an apple story. At this time of year, local history repeats itself as parents gather with children, like their folks did with them, to harvest fall apples from nearby orchards and later transform the fruit with recipes salvaged from family cookbooks.

For many Canadians, apples are the perfect fall treat. After the damp, cold summer we've had in Ontario, local farmers are finally reaping the benefits of the good September weather. And it couldn't have come sooner!

For me, there is nothing more comforting than staying home on a Sunday afternoon enjoying my wife Jennifer's apple pie.

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The fruity aroma that drifts through the house on these days reminds me of what's so special about her simple pie - it's a celebration of season and family.

Food plays a very important part in our time together. While I grew up overseas, Jennifer came from a family deeply involved in local Quebec food ways and traditions. Many of her family's recipes have been passed down and refined through generations. When we cook together at home, our styles and techniques play off each other's, creating a whole new narrative.

Last year, Ontario farmers harvested approximately 17,000 acres of apples, yielding more than 405 million pounds of crop, according to the province's Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. Many of the pick-your-own orchards offer harder-to-find varieties such as Fujis, Matsus and Cortlands.

To add to the appeal, recent studies have suggested that raw apples, specifically North American varieties such as Red Delicious, Northern Spy and Ida Red, contain powerful anti-oxidative properties, in some cases more than three times that found in oranges.

For this recipe, I prefer working with the late-blooming Northern Spy. With its firm, red and green skin and tart yellow-tinged flesh, the Northern Spy is a perfect baking apple. Be sure, though, to handle them gently - the Northern Spy is a delicate fruit.

Whether based on the traditional English pie or the French tarte tatin, what matters most with apple pie is that you start with high-quality fruit.

And because of their sweet and sour qualities, apples make an excellent accompaniment to rich, savoury flavours such as foie gras, truffles, vanilla and roast pork.

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At Splendido, we serve a traditional tarte tatin for two, and at Nota Bene an apple crumble paired with our own spiced cider.

Here is a fantastic recipe with local Northern Spy apples and Prince Edward Island clothbound cheddar. To indulge, I recommend adding a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Apple Pie with Prince Edward Island Clothbound Cheddar

What you need

Pastry dough:

2 cups pastry flour

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1 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup cold lard, cubed

1/3 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed

About 1/3 cup ice water

Pie filling:

5 or 6 Northern Spy apples, cored, peeled, sliced into eighths

1/3 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

2 teaspoons butter

1 egg yolk mixed with a little milk

200 grams Prince Edward Island clothbound cheddar

What you do

Sift flour and salt together in a large bowl. Working quickly, cut in lard and butter using a pastry cutter or blending fork until mixture forms into small granules.

Sprinkle ice water over flour mixture one tablespoon at a time, stirring with a fork or wooden spoon until the dough lightly forms into a ball. Do not overwork.

Place dough ball into a floured bowl and chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425 F. Remove dough from refrigerator and tear into two equal pieces. On a floured surface, roll one piece of dough to 1/8-inch thick disk and place into a nine-inch pie dish. Trim the excess, leaving about ¾-inch overhang. Chill the shell and remaining dough for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, toss apple slices, sugar, cinnamon, lemon juice, salt and zest together in a bowl. Combine well and place in chilled shell, dotting with butter.

Remove remaining dough from the refrigerator, and on a floured surface roll dough to 1/8-inch thick disk. Dampen edges of bottom crust with water and place disk over pie shell, trimming dough and leaving a one-inch overhang. Fold overhang under bottom crust.

Press to seal top and bottom pieces and crimp edges around pie.

Cut slits in the top to allow steam to escape and place in preheated oven. After 20 minutes, remove from oven, brush with egg wash, lower oven temperature to 350 F and cook for 20 to 25 minute. If crust browns too quickly, place a crown of aluminum foil around the edges.

Once cooked, remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Serve warm with the cheddar.

David Lee is co-owner and executive chef of Splendido and Nota Bene in Toronto.

Beppi's wine picks

Classic dessert wines from France, such as Sauternes, Monbazillac or muscat de Beaumes de Venise, would excel here. Consider also a botrytis-affected semillon from Australia, such as De Bortoli Noble One (about $30 for 375 ml), or a late-harvest vidal or riesling from Canada.

Beppi Crosariol

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