Saturday, 5 October 2013

Elephant No. 33: Apple Pie

Apple season is in full swing around here, so today I thought I'd make an apple pie. I rarely make pie—and don't even like apple pie myself—but Terrence loves it, so I guess today is my nice day.

My first step was a trip to the local farmer's market for a basket of apples. I had no idea which apples would be best for pies, but I guessed it might not be the crunchy kind I like to eat. The apple-seller suggested Lobo, so that's what I bought.

Although I'm actually pretty good at pie crust, I didn't feel like dealing with the huge mess I somehow manage whenever I make it. Frozen pie shells happened to be on sale, so I decided to cheat and buy pie crust. If you prefer to make your own pie crust, here's my no-fail recipe for two 9-inch (22.9 cm) crusts, used in an early post from the original Elephant a Day Blog. The original post also included step-by-step instructions and photographs.

Pie Crust
2-1/2 cups (625 ml) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) salt
1/2 cup (125 ml) cold butter, cubed
1/2 cup (125 ml) cold lard, cubed
1/4 cup (60 ml) ice water (approx.)
3 tablespoons (45 ml) sour cream

These were the pie shells I bought. I prefer this particular brand, because I find that lard makes a nice flaky pie crust. My mother, however, always uses vegetable shortening, and her pie crust is mighty good as well, so use whatever you prefer.

I left the pie shells to thaw on the countertop while I made the filling, using the recipe below.

7–8 cups (1.75–2 litres) peeled, sliced apples—about 6 large apples, or 2.25 lbs/1 kg
2 tbsp (25 ml) lemon juice
1/2 cup (125 ml) granulated or brown sugar—I used 1/4 cup of each
3 tbsp (45 ml) all-purpose flour
1–1.5 tsp (4–6 ml) cinnamon

I tossed all the filling ingredients together and set them aside.

I transferred one of the shells to a proper pie plate, since I don't like the flimsy aluminum plates frozen pie shells come in. The shell was a bit smaller than my pie plate, so I had to stretch it a bit. When I'd stretched it as much as I could, I poured in the filling.

I added the top crust, then crimped the edges. The edges weren't near as wide as they should have been, so I pinched and crimped them firmly, squeezing a bit into the body of the pie as well.

Pies need steam vents in the top, so I cut vents in the shape of an elephant standing in tall grass, flinging water over its back.

To make it look pretty, I brushed the top with the yolk of one egg, and sprinkled it with coarse white sugar—the sparkly kind you use to decorate cookies.

I baked the pie on the oven's lower rack at 425˚F/220˚C for 15 minutes, then reduced the heat to 350°F/180°C, moved it up to the middle rack, and cooked it for another 30-40 minutes. The pie is done when the top is golden and the filling bubbles a bit through the vents. To be sure it's done, poke gently through one of the vents. If the apples are soft, it's done.

I was a bit disappointed in the way the elephant turned out. It didn't deform or anything, but I had expected the vents to widen, and most of them didn't. It may have had something to do with the juices escaping out of a small break in the side of the crust. The egg-yolk wash had also sealed up some of the smaller cuts. I gently teased a few of the cuts open, then left it to cool. It should cool for an hour or so on a rack—less if you prefer to serve it warm.

The recipe should serve 8, but in my house it serves only one.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Although I'd never heard of it before, apparently there is a fruit called the elephant apple (Feronia elephantum/Limonia acidissima). Also known as monkey fruit and wood apple in English, it is native to South and Southeast Asia.

The tree grows about 30 feet (9 metres) tall and has rough, spiny bark. The leaves have a citrus scent when crushed, and the fruit is essentially a large berry measuring 2–3.5 inches (5–9 cm) in diameter. Its rind is so thick and hard that it is very difficult to crack, and is often used to make small bowls, ashtrays and utensils.

Interior of elephant apple purchased in Pune, India.

The interior looks mighty unappetizing to me, but it's supposed to be quite tasty. It's eaten plain, made into jams and chutneys, mixed with yogurt, and pureed to make a refreshing drink. The leaves of the tree are also used as a salad green in Thailand. The fruit in particular is loaded with vitamins, including beta-carotene, several B vitamins and vitamin C.

In addition to being edible, the fruit pulp can also be used to make a soapy household cleaner. Unripened fruit is distilled to produce a glue for use in jewellery, cement and art. The rind exudes an oil used in a popular hair fragrance, as well as a fabric dye. And every other part of the tree from bark to leaves to wood is used for purposes ranging from woodworking to traditional medicines.

Leaves and fruit of elephant apple, Chitoor, Andhra Pradesh, India, 2008.
Photo: J.M. Garg

Because it's such a useful tree, elephant apple is often planted as a hedge, providing fruit, foliage and shade. And yes, elephants love it. In southern India, the leaves and fruit of the elephant apple have long been a favourite food of captive elephants, and its branches are used to scrub the elephants at bathtime.

Festival elephant at bathtime, Tripunithera, India. The mahout is adding a
bit of laundry soap to get the elephant nice and clean.
Photo: Vinod Karimatt

To Support Elephant Welfare
Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary (Thailand)
Wildlife SOS (India) 
The Elephant Sanctuary (Tennessee)

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation


  1. Great edible art creation! There are lots of food possibilities, aren't there? Enjoying 2.0, Sheila.

  2. Thanks, Barb! And yesirree lots of food things I can make...and eat!