as american as apple pie

The CNN’s camera angle is wide, spanning a portion of the New Jersey coast, an area where an amusement park stood, just a few days ago. A rollercoaster rests on its side, half submerged in the waters of the Atlantic ocean. Nearby, a ferris wheel has collapsed onto itself, no longer standing tall and majestic. The remaining rides, indistinguishable mounds of colorful steel, lay in a jumbled heap, having been jostled into their resting places by the wind and waves.

The camera moves on, and now we see a neighborhood. There are houses that should be in neat, orderly rows, but that are now sitting askew on their foundations. One house, a white, stately two-story beauty, no longer faces the ocean but instead leans against its neighbor at an awkward angle. The neighborhood’s streets look eerily pale, almost as if covered with snow. But it is beach sand, not snow. During the height of the storm, floodwaters and storm surges pushed the beach up into the streets, covering grass and sidewalks and pavement, as the ocean tried to reclaim some acreage.

The devastation of Superstorm Sandy is almost mind boggling, and definitely mind- numbing. I can’t help but think of the people who lived in those houses, the ones that flooded, the ones that burned to the ground, the ones crushed by trees and blown over by wind. Other than having many good friends who live in New York and some of the surrounding areas, I have no personal connection to Sandy’s devastation. But as a human, as an American, I feel my northern neighbors’ suffering. And after Sandy, everything else this week – the upcoming election, anyone? – seems trivial and unimportant.

But something very American is happening right now and will continue in the days and weeks to come. People from all over this country are pulling together to support those in the northeast who were affected by Sandy. My Facebook and Twitter feeds are filled with offerings of support, extra bedrooms to sleep in, donations of supplies or money.

When times get tough, when our neighbors need help, Americans rally. Americans come together when it counts the most.

On Sunday, as my friends in the northeast prepared for Superstorm Sandy, I baked an apple pie. I baked it for no particular reason other than we had apples and apple pie sounded good. My husband and I ate slices of that pie and watched the news of the storm. We watched with both dread and with understanding. As Floridians, we know hurricanes and what they can bring.

As American as apple pie.

I’m not sure whether apple pie is truly American, but I’ve had that phrase in my head since I made that pie. Even if it’s not true, I like the sentiment. Apple pie is comforting and unassuming. It’s simple – composed only of apples, spices, butter, flour, and sugar – and approachable. All of those basic ingredients come together, every time, reliably, into something more than the sum of its parts.

Americans are like that, too. This country is filled with so many people of different races and ethnicities, from so many different backgrounds and political and religious belief systems. But put a crisis in our path, and we come together, beautifully, to create something more, something bigger than each of us alone.

If you want to help with the recovery efforts of Superstorm Sandy, please do. Donate money to the Red Cross so they can get help where it’s needed the most. Or donate blood and help save the life of someone you don’t know.

And bake an apple pie. Bake an apple pie for a neighbor, a firefighter, a paramedic, a friend, or a stranger.

Through these small gestures, we make a difference, together.

Yield: 1 9-inch pie.

Classic Apple Pie

When I think of baked apples, I think of cinnamon apples. For that reason, this pie is heavy on the cinnamon. If you don't like cinnamon (are there really those of you out there?), then cut down on the amount by half.

For the apples, you can use any variety you like, but a mixture of two different types is best.


Pastry dough for a double crust pie, either homemade or store-bought
4 pounds apples, peeled, cored, and chopped into 1/4 to 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons minute tapioca
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Zest of one lemon
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice


Place a baking sheet on middle oven rack, and preheat oven to 425°F.

Roll out one piece of pastry dough, keeping remaining piece chilled, on a well-floured surface with a floured rolling pin into at least a 13-inch round, about 1/8-inch thick. Gently fit into pie plate. Trim excess dough, leaving a 1/4- to 1/2-inch overhang. Place in refrigerator to chill while assembling filling.

Combine chopped apples with sugars, tapioca, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, salt, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Let sit for about 5 minutes, then remove the bottom crust from the refrigerator and heap the apples into the pie plate. Spread apples evenly into a mound.

Roll out remaining piece of dough on well-floured surface with floured rolling pin, to 1/8-inch thickness. Place this top crust over the apples in the pie plate. Fold the overhang of the top crust under the overhang of the bottom crust; crimp together with your fingers. With a sharp paring knife, cut a few slits in the top of the top crust, to allow steam to vent.

Place pie onto preheated baking sheet in oven and bake at 425°F for 20 minutes. Decrease temperature to 375°F and bake for an additional 55 to 60 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the apple filling is bubbling. If crust is beginning to brown too quickly, lightly cover pie with a piece of aluminum foil to finish baking.

Allow pie to cool to room temperature, or just slightly warm, before serving, about 2 to 3 hours.

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10 Responses to “as american as apple pie”

  1. 1
    Brian @ A Thought For Food — November 1, 2012 @ 9:32 am

    A beautiful post, MJ. Thankfully we are fine here in Boston… but NJ (and NYC), my home state, is very sad looking right now. Thank you for this very sweet post… it’s good for people to know that they can do something to help.

  2. 2
    Merry-Jennifer — November 1, 2012 @ 2:07 pm

    I’m glad you and E are doing okay, Brian. Such an awful thing to have happened. I hope any family you may have back home is safe and sound.

  3. 3
    Rachel Cooks — November 2, 2012 @ 7:51 am

    Beautiful post.

  4. 4
    Anina @ Aninas Recipes — November 6, 2012 @ 12:28 pm

    Hi MJ.
    I think this is an absolutely lovely post. I live in Johannesburg, South Africa – and seldom (or never) are we threatened by natural disasters. I cannot even imagine what these people must go through. All my love and prayers to those affected. OH – and great recipe, so beautifully put together – and I LOVE cinnamon!! xxx

  5. 5

    Simply gorgeous MJ – both the pie and your well written words.

  6. 6
    Jenn — November 8, 2012 @ 8:03 am

    Merry, thanks so much for your wonderful thoughts and generous words, for the apple pie and most importantly for spreading the word out about ways to help out the victims of Hurricane Sandy. Together I hope we can all make a difference to aid those in need.

  7. 7
    Paula — November 8, 2012 @ 9:06 am

    You express your thoughts as beautifully as you bake.

  8. 8
    Barbara | Creative Culinary — November 8, 2012 @ 10:26 am

    You’ve expressed what so many of us are feeling and I’m sure your generosity of spirit along with a quintessential American pie is comforting to many.

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