A hundred years ago, even before Ur Mom was born, American cooks turned out a dozen or more fruit pies a week! (Hence the expression, “Those were the good old days…”) Today many of us never make a fruit pie and that is a darn shame… Few dishes are more comforting, more rewarding, more aromatic, more welcoming or more delicious than pie.

Maybe we make the mistake of judging our pies against the picture-perfect specimens shown in cookbooks or on magazine covers! In your real kitchen and in your real oven pies bubble over during baking, they brown unevenly, they stick to the pan and sometimes the first slice falls apart completely!

None of this should deter you. Fruit pies are a mouth-watering amalgamation of pastry and soft fruity wonderment and they are meant for eating, not displaying. I propose to you the festive month of December as a perfect time to commit to the baking and sharing of your very own pie masterpiece!

This recipe uses a bottom crust from the Joy of Cooking – it turns out perfectly and it tastes scrumptious! The cooked apple filling (also from Joy of Cooking) becomes naturally thick on its own, and helps you avoid the excess liquid and shrinkage that can occur with raw apples. (Try Golden Delicious, Gala or Fuji apples. These varieties tend to survive the pre-cooking and retain their texture.) Finally we finish it off with a streusel topping from Julia Child.

This pie is good warm…it is good cold…it is good with ice cream…it is good with whipped cream…it is good at any time with any meal…it is unbelievably delicious! We make this pie all through the fall and winter at our house – in fact you can keep a package of chilled pie dough and a container of streusel in your refrigerator at the ready for when the pie mood strikes!

So come on into the world of homemade apple pie – I predict that a big bag of orchard apples will never be safe in your hands again!

Gather Up:
For the crust:
1 ¼ cups flour
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup shortening
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
4 – 5 tablespoons ice water

For the filling:
3 – 4 pounds Golden, Gala or Fuji apples (because you will eat some filling…)
3 tablespoons butter
¾ cup sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt

For the streusel topping:
1/2 cup flour
¾ cup brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
½ cup rolled oats

To prepare the crust, combine the flour, sugar and salt. Break the shortening into large chunks and cut the butter into small pieces. Add to the flour mixture.

Cut the fat into the dry ingredients by chopping with a pastry blender or by cutting in opposite directions with two knives. As you work, stir the dry flour up from the bottom and periodically scrape down the pastry blender or knives.

At the finish, some of the fat will still be in pea-sized pieces and the rest will be reduced to coarse crumbs. The mix should be dry and powdery, not greasy.

Drizzle 4 tablespoons ice water over the mixture. Use a rubber spatula to cut through the mixture until it is evenly moistened and begins to form small balls. Press on the dough with the flat side of the spatula. If the balls of dough stick together you have added enough water. If they do not, drizzle a little more.

Cut in the water again using the blade of the spatula. Press with your hand until the dough coheres. The dough should look rough, not smooth.

Press the dough into a round flat disk and wrap tightly in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or as long as 2 days before proceeding.

Once chilled, flour your rolling surface and your rolling pin. Roll the dough into a 13 inch round and fit it into a 9 inch pie pan. Trim the overhanging dough to about an inch. Creatively tuck and pinch your edge and then refrigerate your crust!

Now begin your filling! Peel, core and slice your apples.

In a large skillet heat the butter over high heat until it is sizzling and fragrant. Add the apples and toss until glazed with butter. Reduce the heat to medium and cover tightly. Cook, stirring frequently, until the apples are softened on the outside but still slightly crunchy, 5–7 minutes.

Stir in the sugar, cinnamon and salt. Increase the heat to high and cook the apples at a rapid boil until the juices are thick and syrupy, about 3 minutes. Spread the apples in a thin layer on a rimmed baking sheet and let them cool to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

To prepare the streusel, process the flour, brown sugar, salt and butter in a food processor with several pulses until it looks like coarse meal.

Add the oat flakes and pulse several more times to break them up roughly.

To assemble your pie, pour the cooled apple mixture into your chilled crust. Bake the pie for 20 minutes (without streusel topping).

Add a thick layer of streusel to the pie and return to the oven for approximately 20 more minutes. Bake until the pastry crust edge is richly browned and the filling has begun to bubble. (If the streusel browns too quickly cover with a disk of foil.)

Remove to a rack and let cool completely, 3 to 4 hours. If you want to serve the pie warm, place it in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes.

Serve warm or at room temperature, with optional vanilla ice cream and grated fresh nutmeg.