The annual Thanksgiving Apple Alert, with Always Right Apple Pie

Ok, team, time to get shopping. As mentioned last year on the way to the big chunky apple cake, even diehard farmstands will be shutting down soon, and it won’t be long before specialty groceries revert to the same yawnworthy array, much of it much travelled, offered by supermarkets.

Makes me sad just to think of it, or would if we hadn’t been apple hunting for months, munching, baking and – three cheers for an old fashioned farmhouse with side porches! – stocking up. Some of what’s currently stashed in a small space we try to keep right above freezing (heirlooms with approximate intro date):

Left to right: Wolf River (1875), Cameo, Winesap (1817), Northern Spy (1800), Pink Lady, Stayman (1895), Zabergau Reinette (1885), Tolman Sweet (pre-1822), Golden Russet (pre-1845)

Apple collecting tips and pie recipe after the jump

The Tolman and Zabergau are sort of cheating – I got them from a specialist grower at the Great Maine Apple Day and wouldn’t be surprised to hear there was no other commercial source. But baker’s delight Wolf River is still around, in a farmstand sort of way, and we got the Winesaps, Spys, and Russets at a large-scale direct sale orchard: Jenkins – Lueken, in New Paltz, NY, which also sold us the Cameos and Pink Ladys and the Honeycrisps that you don’t see because we’ve already eaten them all and will have to go get more. (J&K is open ’till Christmas)

Some people compile life lists of birds; we’re working on apple varieties. Any autumn trip is a chance to find a new orchard or even – well, we did hit one once – a private house with a sign in the yard selling heirloom apples from inherited trees.

There’s nothing wrong with chickadees, but they do have an everyday quality compared to red headed woodpeckers and indigo buntings. Mcintosh is a good apple but it’s not in Honeycrisp’s class, never mind Zabergau Reinette’s.

Carpe Apple, in other words. Comparatively unusual types like Rome (1848), Empire and Jonagold will soon be in short supply; a fresh Mcintosh (1870) is far tastier than one from storage; and rare birds like the Russets and Spies are about to be just plain gone until next year. There’s source finding help at  All About Apples,  which offers an orchard locator that covers the whole US. Don’t miss the huge, amazing, inspiring- who knew? – variety list, the apple hunters’ Audubon field guide.  


The crust is always crisp, never soggy. The apples are exactly as tender as you like them to be. And the very last piece is always as fresh tasting as the first, even if there are only two of you and eating the pie takes 3 days.

How can this be? Deconstruction. Bake the apples, covered for maximum pielikeness, uncovered for stand-alone flavor. Bake the crust on a cookie sheet, in decorative shapes that can be added at will. 

Then simply assemble “pies” as needed. Large when it’s Thanksgiving or something, small when it’s just you and your pie and possibly your diet.

Apple Pie assembly style

Apple Pie assembly style


single portion apple pie

single portion apple pie (that's a Cameo, btw, they're champion shape holders)

Vanilla Rum Syrup for Baked Apples

For about 2 cups, enough for 6 to 8 apples if each has its own baking dish, for 8 to 10 if they’re all in the same pan:

2 cups water

1 cup sugar

3 inch piece of vanilla bean, split

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2-3 tablespoons dark rum

Put sugar, water and vanilla bean in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until sugar is dissolved, then lower heat to a simmer and cook until you have a thin syrup, about 5 minutes. Let it cool, then stir in the lemon juice and rum.

That’s it. Thin with a little water or cider if your apples are dry or you want a lot of sauce to soak the crust in so you can recreate the sog layer you’d get in the conventional version. Syrup will keep tightly covered in the fridge for about a month, getting more and more strongly vanilla flavored if you leave the bean pieces in.

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  • ruralway Said,

    We purchased four new apple trees from Fedco this year-and actually got them planted. They are Keepsake, Mantet, Prima and Wagener. I hope they thrive. We have about 1 dozen old apple trees that came with the place-some good, some not so but they gave us bushels of apples this year. Hopefully we will have one or two apples from the new trees next year-I’ll let you know how they taste! Happy Thanksgiving.

  • leslie Said,

    Hi RW

    Good luck with your new trees! And hearing about “old ones” with good fruit always makes my ears perk up. Old fashioned ( standard) apple trees are great at hanging on through neglect and then reviving when somebody comes along to take care of them, so you should have a very interesting orchard before long.

    Please do let us know how they fare, and happy Thanksgiving to you, too.

  • Ali Said,

    There is a terrific orchard in Richmond, ME, Pleasant Pond Orchard. They grow many heirloom varieties and are adding new trees all the time. Mary runs the shop and loves to talk apples.

  • leslie Said,

    Welcome to the blog, Ali, and thanks for the tip!

  • Elaine Said,

    I think that is about the prettiest pie I have ever seen.

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