When you work on a farm, things don’t always go according to plan. Take just now, for instance. There I was, biding my time during my afternoon break, when I got word that the sheep (soon-to-be lamb chops) had escaped from their pen. Earlier this week, a mountain lion attacked the Mangalista pigs and they ended up a mile up the road, fat and afraid. On my first morning here, the water stopped working. It was a smelly couple of days.
Here, there are no Post-it notes or calendar invites. There are no meeting rooms or employee reviews. There’s no Beer Friday, but that’s only because we drink together every night. Even though things can be hectic, and usually are, and even though I’m the one running around like a chicken with its head cut off, it’s really fun work. Sure, I don’t love collecting feces from barns and pastures, nor do I adore detangling goat leashes. I certainly don’t enjoy smelling like a combination of pig urine, sweet grain, and goose droppings.
But for all of those things I’m not wild about, there’s so much of this craziness that I love. I love that I can’t tell what color my shoes used to be and that the only way I know the time of day is by looking at the sun. I love that I haven’t worn earrings or makeup or a blazer in weeks and that I haven’t once thought about what’s on sale at J. Crew. I love when the goats nuzzle my hands for another scratch on the face and when the sheep nibble sweet grain from my palm. Even better, I love watching them yell, tongues out and mouths open, because it’s lunchtime and I’ve got a fresh sheet of alfalfa. I don’t love mixing concrete, but I love that I know how to and I sure as hell love feeling the force of a chainsaw as I slice through fallen redwood branches for the fire pit.
Farm life is the good life. When things don’t go according to plan, you simply improvise…after, you know, freaking out for a second because where the hell are the effing pigs?!?!? So, the other day, when my fellow WWOOFer Amanda suggested we make an apple pie, we took to the Internet to find a recipe. Much to our chagrin, it was down. Luckily, you’d be hard put to find a farmer who doesn’t have an abundance of cookbooks on hand. We checked out The New Best Recipecookbook by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated, since the magazine is always so thorough, and who am I kidding, I’m anything but a pastry chef.
As much as I love Cook’s Illustrated, my eyes glazed over about eleven paragraphs into the section about using butter or shortening or butter and shortening. This book is great as far as details are concerned, but I believe that we should all be cooking the way I’ve been farming. With improvisation! Yeah, yeah, I know – baking is all about proportions and chemistry and all that stuff I didn’t excel at in high school. But if you do your research – and yes, I read the whole friggin’ section on apple pie – you’ll have much more fun playing by your own rules.
So, for this apple pie, we only loosely followed the Cook’s Illustrated recipe. That is to say, yes, we used flour and butter and apples, but the similarities waned thereafter. The result was simply delicious. Unlike the Cook’s Illustrated recipe, which they conceded didn’t hold its form well, this pie stayed together perfectly. The crust was evenly baked on both the bottom and top and the apples were tender but not mushy. In the words of Elena, the WWOOFer from the Canary Islands, it was “so America.”
After a long day of shoveling, corralling, feeding, detangling, digging, watering, weeding, and probably any other farm-related verb you can think of, it was such a treat to sit down to a freshly baked pie topped with homemade vanilla ice cream. We didn’t follow the recipe verbatim, but then again, we never do at FlipJack Ranch. You don’t have to stick to this iteration of apple pie exactly, but if you do, I hope you stay true to the part about eating it to celebrate a job well done.
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting work surface
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 sticks plus 4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
4 tablespoons ice water
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 pounds tart apples
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cloves
¼ teaspoon salt
1 egg white, beaten
For dough: Combine flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor.
Slice butter into small pieces and scatter on top of flour mixture. Pulse the food processor in one-second bursts until texture is coarse and small pea-sized balls have formed. Place contents into a mixing bowl.
Sprinkle the ice water over the flour mixture and use a rubber spatula to gently combine until dough sticks together.
Use your hands to form dough into two balls and then press into 4-inch discs. Wrap with plastic wrap and store in the fridge for at least one hour, or up to two days.
Remove the dough from the fridge and let sit until malleable, approximately 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 450ºF.
Spread some flour on a flat, clean surface. Using a rolling pin, roll one disc of dough into a 12-inch circle. Roll from the center out, turning the dough every so often so that it is rolled out evenly. It’s okay if the edges aren’t perfect. Roll the circle around the rolling pin and unroll on top of a 9-inch pie plate. Gently maneuver the dough to fit the shape of the plate. Place in the fridge.
For the filling; Peel, core, and thinly slice the apples. In a mixing bowl, combine apples, lemon juice, lemon zest, ¾ cup of sugar, spices, and salt.
Retrieve pie plate from fridge and spread apple mixture evenly over the dough.
Roll out your second dough disc so that you can cut eight 2-inch strips. Some strips should be longer than others.
Weave the strips together on top of the pie to create a lattice design.
Break off any extra long pieces of dough strips. Fold a small amount of the dough under and press the edges with a fork to seal.
Use a pastry brush to spread the egg whites over the strips of dough and sprinkle with remaining sugar.
Bake at 450ºF for 20 minutes, then turn down to 375ºF and bake until crust is golden and apples juices appear to be bubbling, about 30 minutes.
Allow pie to cool to room temperature and serve with vanilla ice cream!