Nothing signals the onset of fall like the irresistible aroma of baked or fried apple pies. Whether the smells are wafting from your kitchen or the ovens of South Carolina's most storied bakeries and cafes, the promise of fruity, flaky goodness is inherent at first whiff.
You'll likely find regionally grown apples at farmers markets and roadside stands throughout the fall season. It is an autumnal tradition, however, for South Carolinians to head to the northernmost areas of the state in September and October for apple picking or to grab ready-to-go bags. Winesap, Jonagold, Gala, Pink Lady, Mutsu and Granny Smith are among some of the best pie varieties grown in these parts. Mix and match for the sweet/tart flavor profile that makes apple pie an American favorite. Try these orchards when apples are in season, typically beginning from mid-July or August through October. Call to confirm availability and/or picking hours.
Bryson's Apple Orchard, Mountain Rest
Varieties: Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Gala, Mutsu, Ozark Golden, Granny Smith, Arkansas Black, Rome Beauty, Yates, Fuji, Winesap, Supreme Gold and Sunshine
Windy Hill Orchards and Cider Mill, York
Varieties: Stayman Winesap
Chattooga Belle Farms, Long Creek
Varieties: Liberty, Golden Delicious, Pink Lady, Granny Smith, Gale Gala, Ginger Gold, Honey Crisp, Yates, Winesap, Mutsu, Arkansas Black, Fuji, Gibson Golden, Crimson Crisp, Grimes Golden, Hardy Cumberland, Freedom, Gold Rush, Ultima Gala, Pristine, Crimson Gold, Royal Empire, Caudle Cameo and Royal Gala
Blue Haven Orchards, Long Creek
Varieties: Ginger Gold, Golden Supreme, Gala, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Stayman, Granny Smith, Mutsu, Fuji, Cameo, Rome, Arkansas Black, Yates
Once you get your fruit home, tie on an apron and let the pie-making begin in earnest. With the availability of prepared pie crusts, making apple pie is easy. Just fill with your apple mixture and bake ‘em up! If it's homemade or no way, dust off your rolling pin and create your choice of masterpiece, whether it be deep dish, sour cream, lattice-top, crumble top or a flaky two-crust variety. A dollop of ice cream or slice of cheddar will set off your creation to its tastiest advantage.
If you're a novice, apple season is an apt time to start honing your baking skills. Don't have a pie wizard in your family to mentor you? Hilton Head's Ken Haedrich, author of "Apple Pie" (Harvard Common Press, 2002) and the self-appointed dean of the online tutorial site, The Pie Academy, will walk you through the finer points of making the perfect apple pie. His website is a goldmine of sage advice and video instruction for spot-on pie and "no-more-tears" pastry making. For the super serious student, attend one of his annual Lowcountry Pie Getaways for anyone ready to roll up their sleeves and master the art.
Of course, you don't have to traverse orchards and ponder the virtues of shortening vs. butter to savor sensational apple pie. Head out to an apple pie hot spot and sink your teeth into a ready-made pastry. Here are some of South Carolina's most lauded apple pie purveyors:
Grits and Grocery, Belton
This bustling café is famous for lots of down-home dishes, including legendary fried apple pies (see recipe below).
Windy Hill Orchard and Cider Mill, York
Warm up with a crispy, hot pie stuffed with their Winesap apples.
Silver Spoon Bake Shop, Columbia
Don't miss out on these to-die-for lattice top apple pies (pre-ordering required).
Freeman's Bakery, Florence
Lattice-top fruit pies are baked up daily, with crumb-topped Dutch versions making occasional appearances.
Café Old Vienna, Myrtle Beach
Though technically not pie, the crusty, decadent apple strudel at this European-style café will more than satisfy your craving.
Kings Farm Market, Edisto Island
There's nothing humble about Kings' Apple Pear Praline pie. Eat a heavenly slice (or two or three) drizzled in praline sauce and topped with nuts.
Ready to roll?
Here, two South Carolina apple pie masters share tried-and-true recipes to get you started. Hint: Successful apple pie baking begins with good mise en place, or preparation of ingredients and tools. So dust off that rolling pin and dig out your pie plates, measuring cups and spoons, your apples and other ingredients. Arrange everything, crank up the Don McLean and get rolling:
Fried Apple Pies from Grits & Groceries, Belton
Makes 8 to 10 pies
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 ½ tsp. kosher salt
1 cup lard
¾ to 1 cup ice water
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 cups granulated sugar
Mix flour and salt using a pastry whisk or your fingers. Rub lard into the flour mixture until it resembles a coarse meal. Add water ¼ cup at a time until dough comes together but is not too sticky. Shape into a disk and wrap in plastic and chill for at least 1 hour. (The dough will keep a couple days in the refrigerator.)
6 Granny Smith apples
Zest of 1 lemon
2 Tbsp. of butter
½ cup brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
¾ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
¼ tsp. ground cloves
2 Tbsp. Steen's pure cane syrup
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. of your favorite bourbon
On a floured surface, roll half the dough into a circle about 1/8-inch thick and cut into circles 6 inches across. The lid from a large coffee or plastic container works well. Repeat with the remaining dough. Gently form trimmed parts into a ball and reroll and cut rounds until you have 10 circles. Mix 1 egg and a teaspoon of water into a wash, then with a pastry brush, coat the outer edge of the circle. Place ¼ cup of apple filling in the center and carefully fold the dough together, making sure no filling touches the rim of the dough. Crimp the edges firmly together to make a seam across the top of the filling. In a deep-fat fryer, heat oil to 350 degrees and gently fry pies a few at a time, leaving room for them to float freely in the oil. Cook the pies for 8 to 9 minutes, until the dough is crisp and lightly browned. Remove to paper towels and roll in the cinnamon sugar mixture. Serve warm with vanilla or cinnamon ice cream.
Deep Dish Apple Pie from the Pie Academy
Enough dough to line and top a 9 ½ -inch deep-dish pie pan, made one batch at a time and refrigerated separately. Find the dough recipe here.
9 ½ to 10 cups peeled, cored, and sliced fresh baking apples
A little water or cider
½ cup sugar
2 ½ Tbsp. cornstarch (or 2 Tbsp., if the apples are not fresh and juicy)
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
¼ tsp. cinnamon or nutmeg
Big pinch of salt\
1 cup raisins or dried sweetened cranberries (optional, but a nice touch; they help thicken the filling, as well)
Milk, half-and-half, or light cream to brush the pie
1. Adjust one of your oven racks so it is one position below the center. Put your second rack below that one in case you need to catch drips; see step 7. If you don't have a second rack, you have my permission to go buy a new oven.
2. On a sheet of lightly floured wax paper - or on whatever floured surface you prefer - roll one piece of the pastry into a 13- to 13 ½ -inch circle. Invert the paper and dough over a 9 ½ -inch deep-dish pie pan, center it and peel off the paper. Tuck the pastry into the pan, without stretching it. Let the edge of the pastry rest on the edge of the pan. Refrigerate while you make the filling.
3. Put the apples in a large, heavy, enameled or nonstick pot and add a couple of tablespoons of water or cider. With the heat on medium-high, warm the apples for a few minutes, stirring often, just until the pot steams a bit and the apples seem to "relax." YOU'RE NOT TRYING TO PRECOOK THEM, BUT SIMPLY RELAX THEM A BIT. Transfer the apples to a large bowl and cool for 5 minutes.
4. Mix the sugar with the cornstarch in a small bowl. Stir into the apples along with the lemon juice, spice, salt and raisins or cranberries. Set aside for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
5. After 15 minutes, turn the apple filling into the chilled pie shell. Smooth the top so no apple points stick up. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush a little water around the rim of the shell where it will meet the top pastry.
6. Roll the other piece of dough into a 12-inch circle. Drape it over the apples and press along the edge, to seal. Using a paring knife, trim the dough flush with the side of the pan. Now take a large fork, preferably a pastry fork, and press along the edge with the back side of the tines, to crimp. Make 6 steam vents in the top pastry with a paring knife, twisting the knife slightly to enlarge the holes.
7. Brush the top pastry lightly with milk or light cream and place in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375°. Bake an additional 40 to 50 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and you can see juices bubble thickly through the steam vents. If the pie starts to bubble over, slip a foot-long piece of foil onto the oven rack below the offending spot to catch the juice. Transfer the pie to a rack and cool for at least 1 hour before serving. Makes 10 servings.