The Best Apple Pie Recipe Ever: Pick 'Em Like Maine Pomologist John Bunker

Nutting Bumpuses. Northern Spy. Newt Grindles. These are just a few of the unique names given to a variety of rare, heirloom apples found on John Bunker's Super Chilly Farm in Palermo, Maine.

Bunker, a self-appointed Maine preservation pomologist, has without a doubt the most knowledge of apples in North America. After all, he's spent the past 40 years studying the unique varieties of apple that grow on his 100-acre farm, about 200 heirloom types. They are apples you have (probably) never heard of, and the apples you (most likely) have never tasted. They grow in odd shapes and unusual sizes. And, sadly, they are apples that will never grow here in South Florida. Still, that doesn't mean you can't have a taste for yourself.

For tips on where to buy the best New England apples, and how to bake the best apple pie you've ever had, keep reading:

If you're from New England, chances are you had a family member or two that would send a box of Florida oranges and grapefruit north in the dead of winter — a reminder that the sunny South has a year-round supply of the fruit ripe for the picking. Here, it's the other way around. While grocery stores and farmers markets across New York, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont and Massachusetts are inundated with apples of all kinds, we in South Florida are stuck with bags of boring, mushy McIntosh or over-ripe Red Delicious. 

It's too bad, because the thousands of apple varieties, in a range of colors and textures, can be used for so many different things, starting with baking and juicing, but also pressing into ciders, boiling into syrup, fermenting into alcohol and vinegar. The cores and peels? Use them to feed your garden, or feed them to the farm animals (in other words, save them for a hot local farmer). 

OK, so how do you find them in Broward and Palm Beach Counties? Well, you don't. You simply have them shipped to you. Although New England's apple-picking season began in late August, the best time to place apples is during the final harvest, typically the entire month of November. Even though we Floridians can't do any picking ourselves, that doesn't mean we can't have the best of the best brought directly to our doorstep. 

Here, we've compiled a short list of New England farms that do the apple picking for you, then box them up and ship them to your door. The list below highlights a few that still have varieties available that do best for baking — like Granny Smith, Jonagold, Braeburn, Rome Beauty and Northern Spy — especially for that apple pie recipe coming up.

Belltown Hill Orchards in South Glastonberry, Connecticut
Hickory Hill Orchards in Cheshire, Connecticut
Lyman Orchards in Middlefield, Connecticut
Bolton Orchards in Bolton, Massachusetts
Carlson Orchards in Harvard, Massachusetts
Mack's Apples in Londonberry, New Hampshire
Lakeside Orchards in Manchester, Maine
McDougal Orchards in Springvale, Maine

Of course, the best way to savor this fall fruit: the wholesome, all-American apple pie. If you go the route of store-bought conventional apple, choose Granny Smith for a tart pick, or Braeburn for a more sweet apple pie. In general, always choose apples that feel firm when pressed gently, avoiding bruised ones. For the longest shelf life, store apples in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator, and try to use within three weeks. If you're baking, any style of pie is good, but nothing beats the old fashioned deep-dish version that uses nothing but spice and butter to allow the flavor of the apple to shine through, a la John Bunker style:

The "Best" Apple Pie Recipe Ever

Simply put, the best apple pie starts with the best apples — and because some are better for baking than others, it's important you choose those that deliver when it comes to texture and flavor. The cream of the crop for baking according to the experts: tart picks like Granny Smith, Jonagold and Pippin, or sweeter ones like Rome Beauty, Pink Lady and Braeburn. A variety of several types of apples — both sweet and tart — will also impart an entirely unique flavor profile to any pie. It's simply a matter of taste.

It's also important to have a perfect crust, one that's not too doughy — but also not too dry — with just the right amount of flavor and flakiness. Here, an apple pie recipe guaranteed to deliver the full flavor of the apple balanced with a simple combination of sugar and spice. An extra-special ingredient: a touch of brandy. 


For The Crust:
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for coating and pie plate
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour, preferably stone ground
1/4 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of mace
1 3/4 cups (3 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for pie plate
1/4 cup brandy, chilled
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 large egg

For The Filling
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed dark-brown sugar
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon allspice
Pinch of mace
12-14 Granny Smith [or variety of choice] apples, peeled, cored, de-seeded, and thinly sliced
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus more for pie plate
1 large egg yolk, beaten


For The Crust: In a large bowl, sift together flours, sugar, salt, baking powder, and mace. Cut in butter with a pastry blender until pea-size clumps form. In a small bowl, whisk together brandy, vanilla, and whole egg. Pour into flour mixture and blend with a fork until mixture is moist and holds together. Turn the dough out onto a work surface. Divide in two. Sprinkle with just enough flour and sugar to coat. Place each half on a sheet of plastic wrap. Flatten and form two disks. Wrap, and refrigerate at least 1 hour before using.

For The Filling: In a large bowl, sift together sugars, flour, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, allspice, and mace; set aside. Place apples in another large bowl. In a small bowl, mix together cream and vanilla; pour over apples. Add 3/4 of the flour mixture to the apples; toss to combine.


1) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter and flour a 12-inch pie plate; set aside. Place two large sheets of plastic wrap on top of one another on a work surface. Sprinkle with enough flour and sugar to lightly coat. Place 1 disk of dough on plastic wrap, and lightly sprinkle with flour and sugar. Cover dough with 2 large pieces plastic wrap. Roll out dough between plastic wrap to a 14-inch circle. Peel off top layer of plastic wrap and flip dough into prepared pie plate. Remove remaining layers of plastic wrap. Trim overlap edges to 1 inch using scissors. 
2) Fill pie plate with apple mixture, mounding in the center. Dot mixture with butter. 
3) Roll out second disk of dough between plastic wrap following the same process as above. Lay over apples. Cut vents into top crust. Crimp edges with thumb and forefinger.
4) Beat egg yolk and brush top of pie. Sprinkle with sugar.
5) Place pie on a baking sheet to catch any juices that may overflow during baking. Loosely cover pie with parchment-lined aluminum foil. Transfer pie to oven and bake for about 1 hour. Reduce temperature to 375 degrees and continue baking for another hour. During the last 10 minutes of baking, remove foil to allow the crust to bake to a golden crisp. Serve pie warm.

Note: To garnish the pie with candied apple peel, toss strips of apple peel with sugar and arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Heat oven to 400 degrees, turn off, and place baking sheet in oven overnight.

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