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Old English apple pie

Updated: Nov 17, 2021

"the apple pie is one of the great dishes of this island, and one that has spread right round the world, recognisably British still, perfected over the centuries, impossible to improve." Robert Carrier

When I was trawling through my large photograph collection looking for pictures of Jenny, I came across this one and I could not resist setting it aside. It was the expression on my younger son's face that caught my eye and, of course, it was one of the few home cooking photographs that I have. I thought I might be able to use it somehow in this blog - so here I am. Personally I think it's a terrible picture of me - but then I generally look awful in photographs. David says not. But this is not about me. It's not even about Dom. It's about Robert Carrier and his recipe for Old English Apple Pie. It's a family favourite - we have been making it forever - and you should too.

It was also a favourite of Carrier himself. It first appears in his magnus opus Great Dishes of the World and pops up again with various different names in several of his books, including his New Great Dishes of the World. He does this a fair bit with some of his recipes, but I do think it is significant that this is a keeper for him. It started out as English Apple Pie, and subsequently became Old English Apple Pie and Apple Pie with Orange Juice. Most of his books do not have pictures of the dishes in them, but this dish appears three times - in fact in the original Great Dishes of the World it is the last picture in the book.

The other reason for tackling this is my next First Recipe post. For the next item on my cookbook shelves is Robert Carrier's packet of cookery cards for Cakes, sweets and puddings. It's not actually the first recipe in the pack which I have never made - Pineapple Savarin - which is a rather old-fashioned dessert now and here it is. So fancy and fussy, and not that easy to make as it requires yeast, and my efforts with yeast are never that successful. I might look at savarins some time soon though. Anyway this little packet of cards contains two regularly made desserts in our house, and subsequently they are the first ones you see - Old English Apple Pie and Apple Streusel, which I'm pretty sure I have spoken about before. Here they both are in their very battered state, looking pretty old-fashioned and probably not that tempting, but trust me they are both recipes to be treasured. And I see the apple pie photograph was repurposed elsewhere - see above.

Why is it so good? Well the apple pies of my youth, and, indeed what most people regard as the traditional apple pie contains very little extra flavouring. The taste of the apples is the main thing. And English apples are excellent:

"for nearly two thousand years, ever since the Romans first planted apple trees in Somerset and found that the flavour of the fruit surpassed that of any in all their Empire, the apple has been our dominant fruit and far and away our favourite." Robert Carrier

But Carrier adds flavouring. He favours the Bramley for his pie - Granny Smith's are the closest you get to that here in Australia. But lots of people use Cox's Orange Pippins or mix them with the Bramley. And tragically you cannot get them here. I miss them. They have such a unique taste. According to Robert Carrier the first pies were made back in 1296 with the advent of the Costard apple, although another website said the first recipe was written down by Chaucer in 1381. A long time before America was settled and the Americans decided the apple pie was theirs - prompting the expression 'as American as apple pie'.

But back to the 'traditional' apple pie. Several cooks seem to think the plainer the better. Just apples, no spices, but sugar and maybe lemon rind. Hugh Fearnley- Whittingstall's is an example of this as shown here. He does suggest adding some ground almonds and a tiny bit of cinnamon, but they are optional. Otherwise it's just apples. My mother added cloves to hers, but otherwise for her too it was just apples. The Hairy Bikers were the same, and Delia - who to be fair has several different versions of apple pie - has no spices at all in her English apple pie and just cloves in her Traditional apple pie with cheddar crust. Whilst Jamie goes for a bit of ginger. Nigel Slater does the cheese in the pastry thing and just a touch of cinnamon in the apples with his Ploughman's pie. All pretty plain.

Yes cheddar - a few people included cheddar - it has to be cheddar, in the pastry, and even more suggested serving it with cheddar cheese, including Robert Carrier. Jamie branches out though and has one with Lancashire cheese.

You would expect Jane Grigson to serve up the ultimate recipe in her Fruit Book, and she does have a recipe there, but it's from New Zealand and it's not actually a pie - more like Carrier's Streusel tart. But then Jane Grigson is the queen of tarts. However, in her English Food, she serves up two from the French chef Carême - he who has given his name to the fanciest frozen puff pastry you can buy here. The simplest version contains no spices - just apples and sugar. The other is a sort of predecessor of Robert Carrier's.

And what does Coles do? Well they actually have a whole range of recipes for apple pie, but the closest to what we are talking about here are Classic apple pie, and Salted caramel apple pie, the first of which is pretty plain - just a bit of vanilla with the apples and cinnamon in the pastry, but the other one has cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg too. The salted caramel bit is just a sauce for pouring over it, so not really part of the pie.

The pastry that people use varies of course, so I won't go into that here. I just use a basic sweet shortcrust pastry. A pastry which Dom used to, probably still does, treat without the proper care and attention, he would knead it far too much and not keep it cool, and yet it always turned out perfectly. Some people cook the apples beforehand. Don't do this. It's not necessary if you cut the apples to a reasonable size - not too thin - because if you cook them beforehand they will just be mushy.

So back to the master. Robert Carrier's Old English apple pie. What makes it so good? Well one or two things. First of all, once you have lined your pie dish with pastry you rub it with a cinnamon, nutmeg, flour and sugar mix. Then you add some grated lemon and orange peel to the mix which you layer between the apples and sultanas or raisins with which you fill the dish. And it needs to be a proper deep English pie dish with a rim, like the one Dom is fiddling with. He's crimping the edges of the pastry together. The other thing is to pour some orange juice over the filling and dot with butter before putting the top piece of pastry on. It is truly delicious, as shown here. New England Apples - an American apple growers association has put the recipe up on their website for you to try. Which is a bit ironic really. I couldn't find an English one. Well I suppose he was American really.

"I find a special satisfaction, in these days of quick and easy cooking, in making this traditional dish just for the sheer pleasure of it. The warm and spicy smell of apple baking in the oven - its filling rich with cinnamon and nutmeg and the tart rind of lemon, its crust part butter, part flour and part poetry - is one of the most tantalising and appetising aromas I know." Robert Carrier

Seriously - next time you hanker after apple pie try this recipe. It is glorious. Gloriously simple too. And children love making it. Just look at the expression on Dom's face, many years ago in Adelaide.

"Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness." Jane Austen


1. As I mentioned Nigel Slater - an Englishman - didn't really have a recipe. However I found this amazing looking thing - yes it looks like a cake but it's a pie - which the lady who presented it (Baking as Therapy) said was adapted from a Nigel Slater recipe, which I could not find, and is more akin to what the Germans - great cake makers I have to say - do when making an apple pie. It'c called Konditorei apple pie. It has cinnamon, nutmeg and Calvados in the filling and almonds on top as you can see. Along with the icing. So weird I had to include it.

2. Whilst we are still on Nigel Slater. Not apple pie at all, and not a sweet dish, but it looked so yummy I put it here as a reminder to (a) cook it some time soon, and (b) maybe write about it somehow. It' called Shallot and apple tart.

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