When Words Fall Short (Apple Pie)
“And this, what does this mean? ‘Flipping,’ I thought I understood, but not in this sentence.” My neighbor Genevieve slid the English novel across her pocked black counter top, just as she had so many times before. Knowing her to have a penchant for literature spotted with metaphor, I’d always arrive at her door prepared to perform a word best articulated through movement, explain the illogical backstory of an idiom, or unravel a particularly poetic turn of phrase. I pulled the book into the spotlight of the pendant light overhead and scanned the text, decorated with her curling lead scrawlings, to find the phrase in question. “Ha! This will be a fun one,” I laughed, strategizing how best to translate, “flipping death the bird,” without offending my dear, refined friend.
Fitting. On this, my final night in the rural Provencal village of Le Poet, I was tempted to flip a lot of things the bird: the passage of time, change, the choice to live a life of falling in love with new people and new places, only to perpetually leave them. As someone who is always wrestling with competing desires for the ease of home and the adventure of travel, there is perhaps no moment more bitter or more beautiful than the last one in a place that, though wholly stranger just months before, now coaxes comfort. But that wasn’t to be focused on now. I had an evening to be present for, and a dinner to host.
Genevieve had done so much for me. She welcomed me into her home evening after evening for aperitifs, extended French meals, and conversation. She took me to the lake on unseasonably hot September days, and provided layers when the temperature dropped suddenly and, again, unseasonably. She was my unforeseen warmth next door. A humbly burning fire that, on a cold or windy night, invited me to inch closer for comfort. I decided early on: the best way to say goodbye to this person will be to prepare her a feast.
I was eager to see how a downhome American meal, inspired by the recent company of my Southern partner, would fit into French custom and formality. This was certainly the first time I’d ever prefaced fried chicken, biscuits with honey butter, crispy smashed potatoes, homemade pickles, and pimento cheese with sweet white wine and a selection of nuts. It was also the first time I enjoyed said meal with a strong red and an embroidered cloth table runner. I granted permission for everyone to eat with their hands, but my formal French guests expressed no interested in setting down their forks and knives.
As the hours passed, the plates cleared, and the wine bottles emptied, I begged the sweet dessert to counterbalance the bitterness of the evening’s imminent end. I took the apple pie out of the warm oven and explained my non-traditional addition of goat milk caramel—a nod to my temporary home in Provence, where Genevieve once warned, “everything is goat milk!”
Even though I was traveling early the next morning, in true, endlessly kind, neighborly fashion, Genevieve tried to send me home with leftovers. "No, no," I refused her kindness for the first time since I arrived. "This, all of this, is meant for you."
I always turn to food to bridge the gap between that which I can say aloud and the full breadth of what I want to express. Words fall short, especially in foreign countries and in expressions of love. Food does not.
Goat Milk Caramel Apple Pie
For the pie dough (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
2 ½ cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
2 sticks salted butter, very cold
¾ cup ice water
1. Add flour, sugar, and salt to a large bowl. Dice cold butter into ½ inch cubes and toss in flour mixture. Working quickly, rub the butter into the flour, leaving some pieces big and chunky white flattening others thin. The uneven butter sizes will create a super flaky crust.
2. Add about ½ cup of the ice water and begin working the dough. You want to add only enough water to bring the dough together, so add more little by little if you need it. The dough should be craggy and look a bit dry, but come together into a non-sticky ball.
3. Divide the dough in two and press into 1 inch discs. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least an hour. You can keep it in the fridge for up to a week.
4. When cool, generously flour a table top and roll out a portion of the dough until it’s ~1 inch larger than your pie plate. Roll the dough from the middle out, making quarter turns after each roll, and adding more flour as necessary. If the edges crack, there’s no shame in pushing the dough back together.
5. Press dough into your pie plate firmly, making sure the dough hugs the corner of the pie plate. Prick all over with a fork and pop back into fridge.
6. Repeat with second portion, keeping in fridge on a plate or parchment paper until you need it.
For the goat milk caramel
1 cup sugar
2 cups goat milk
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1. Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cook for ~20 minutes, or until mixture is caramel colored and the texture of honey.
For the caramelized apples
7 Granny Smith apples, sliced thin
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup white sugar
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. Peel, core, and slice apples very thinly.
3. Spread out on a baking sheet and sprinkle with sugars and butter. Cook until very soft and nicely caramelized, about 30-40 minutes, stirring halfway through.
For the apple filling
All caramelized apples
5 raw Granny Smith apples, sliced thin
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup white sugar
½ cup AP flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
1. Peel, core, and slice apples very thinly.
2. In a large bowl, mix raw apples, caramelized apples, sugars, flour, cinnamon, and salt until mixture is even.
3. Pile into prepared pie plate and top with caramel.
4. Lay the second round of dough over the top of the pie, seal, and crimp the edges. Brush with a whisked egg, cut holes for steam to escape, and sprinkle with raw sugar.
5. Bake at 325 for an hour, or until crust is golden brown on both the top and bottom. If the pie browns too quickly on top, cover with foil.
6. Serve with vanilla ice cream, obviously.