Grandma Alice’s Apple Pie
Thinking of apple pie conjures up memories of family. The sweet cinnamon-laced aroma of bubbling apple pie wafting through our old family farmhouse brings memories flooding back of my late grandmother, Alice Mansheim Uhlenhake. Grandma Alice lived with us while I was growing up, and being a former teacher, she was eager to teach me many things, including the art of making apple pies from the orchard on our family farm near Calmar, Iowa.
Grandma grew up with fruit orchards that included a peach grove in Fort Madison, in southern Iowa. Being the only daughter, grandma and her mother, Bernadina Mansheim, had plenty of practice making fruit pies. After she was married, Grandma’s brother, John, would even bring a truckload of peaches up to our area in Northeast Iowa each year. We were privileged to have grandma stay with us in her senior years. A month at a time, she made rounds to each of the four daughters and her only son, who farmed the Uhlenhake family farm by Ossian. Grandpa Ted died at age 61, so for many years Grandma worked as a cook and housekeeper for Monsignor Leander Reicks in Cherry Mound and Dougherty, Iowa.
When I was a child, Grandma would get up early, while the rest were milking cows, and we would wander the orchard together as the sun rose in the sky. We would check on the gardens, grapes, raspberries, and apple orchard. Grandma was a devote women, and at the end of our walk, we would stop to meditate over the beautiful purple Morning Glories as they opened up to the sun and we would offer up our work for the day. Then the bustling farm kitchen came alive.
One day when I was about 10, Grandma decided it was time to teach me how to make pie by myself. It sounded like fun, so we gathered apples from the orchard and the flour went flying as she patiently taught me how to roll out the lard-based dough. It took practice and learning to use less flour to roll out the dough. I eventually became so proficient at my pie-making skills that I was sent to my sister Juanita Elsbernd Cole’s home in Cedar Rapids a few years later to make pies for a baptismal dinner. My mother, Ruth Elsbernd, recalls that Wealthy apples were the choice apples out of the orchard for pies.
Summers were busy on the farm, and many times there were extra hungry workmen to feed. Grandma, mom, my sister Eileen (Schissel), and I made large meals at noon, and often the meal ended with her flaky apple pie. We learned the difference of our generations – sometimes we laughed about it, sometimes we just listened. It was the era of “hot pants” for us, as we became teenagers. We would chuckle, looking out at the clothes blowing on the line with grandma’s bloomers alongside our shorts… that just so happened to be shorter than her bloomers.
As soon as I was in high school, I was thrilled to sign up for Home Economics class. Poor Mrs. Grimes may have found me adequate to lacking in my cooking skills, so it came as quite a surprise that I could make a great pie. All because my grandmother felt it was a culinary skill she wanted to pass on to her grandchildren.
Years later, as our children were growing up, it became a tradition with my husband Kevin and our children, Lisa (Keigan) and Scott, to make apple pies to give to neighbors, friends, and put in the freezer for the long winter days ahead in Iowa.
When it was time to say good-by to my 93-year-old grandmother (who said lard is bad for you?!), many of us granddaughters brought pie for the meal after the funeral. I remember looking over the rows and rows of pies and thinking it was a perfect tribute to a wonderful lady we called Grandma.
Grandma’s Pie Crust – makes 3 regular crusts or two deep-dish crusts
- 3 cups flour
- 1 cup shortening
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 4 to 5 cold tablespoons water
Apple Pie Filling
- 5 or 6 sliced apples (Honey Crisp is a favorite as well!)
- ¾ to 1 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- Tablespoon of flour
- Speck of nutmeg
Make dough by sifting flour and salt together. Add flour mixture to shortening slowly; use a pastry blender or a fork, cutting it to the size of small peas. Chill for 30-60 minutes (or longer), then slowly add water up to 5 tablespoons until the mixture is barely dampened. Take half of the mixture and press into compact ball.
Dust flour on rolling pin and board. Roll pastry out to about 1/8 thick and about an inch larger that pie plate. Fit into pie pan. Sprinkle a little flour over it and add 5 or so sliced tart apples. Pour in ¾ to 1 cup of sugar, little dab of butter, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, and a speck of nutmeg.
Next roll up the rest of pastry and place on top of pie pan and crimp the edges. Mix a small amount of cream or milk with sugar and using a pastry brush, brush mixture lightly on top of crust. Cut slits in the top crust to allow for steam to release in oven. Bake for approximately an hour at 350 degrees.
Tip: If you don’t mix water in dough, you can keep it for almost a week in the refrigerator and make a one crust cream pie (I make Key Lime pie) with the third crust. When making apple pie I use a deep-dish pie pan about 11 inches – so I use all the dough from this recipe. Also if you have a little leftover dough, we cut small squares & put jam in them-pinch ends to make tarts. Bake about 10 minutes.
Tip 2: If you choose to make three regular crusts, take a cup of the dry dough mixture out (and save it for later), then only add 2 to 3 1/2 tablespoons of water to finish the dough. If making a deep dish (or a two-crust pie and a one-crust pie) you can slowly add water as needed, up to 5 T.