Since September, I've been scouring the tables at the farmers market, rooting expectantly into crates and bins, pestering vendors with questions of when, now, yet? I've politely accepted samples of Honeycrisps (they're very sweet) and respectfully listened to extolments of Pink Ladys (“a lovely eating apple”). I've bought a few Spitzenbergs (“these were Jefferson's favorite, you know”). More market days and with them more venerable cultivars, and then last Sunday, I finally spot my quarry, the Arkansas Black apple.
If you're not already a devotee, allow me to wax rhapsodic about this particular heirloom — and then we can talk about my recipe for Arkansas Black apple pie.
The Arkansas Black is also known as the Snow White apple. It is an apple possessed of dueling names, one shade, one light — one a collection of angular consonants, the other a pair of rounded vowels. Named Snow White for its white flesh and ebony skin, it's both weapon and mark. This is a gothic tale in apple form.
The Arkansas Black's siren song starts out bright and tart, then blooms with notes of nutmeg, coriander, vanilla and anise the longer it sits in cellar. But don't stow it away for too long. It's best eaten young, when the acid has yet to mellow and the apple still pulls in different directions at once. Let the apple age, though, and it reveals its singular trick. The Arkansas Black is the only apple to make a costume change after harvest. It begins the season dressed in red with shoulders of green. As the weeks progress, the protean skin eventually turns a burgundy so deep, it's almost black.
Some say it's a baker's apple, because of its pronounced tartness, but I'd categorize it as an apple for the salt-toothed. Its dense, dry texture is a great approximation of a green mango or June plum, two fruits abundant in the tropics, but it's hard to grow well in the States. Give the apple a Southeast Asian treatment and eat it with salt into which you've crushed an equal amount of Red Bird chilies (which might still be available from Yang Farm).
If you don't prefer your apple with salt and chilies, then bring the Arkansas Black to your lips. Taste tart, sugar, spice, cider. Let it whisper to you: I am a pie, I am a pie, I am a pie.
The SoCal season for Arkansas Blacks is very short. Windrose Farm brought in the first of their excellent crop last Sunday and will only have them thorough this weekend and until next Wednesday. Ha's Apple Farm still has to bring in their small crop, so look for them on next week's market run. Grab these apples when you see them, because chances are they'll be gone by the next week.
Turn the page for the recipe…
Arkansas Black Apple Pie Recipe
From: Diep Tran of Good Girl Dinette
Makes: 1 pie
For the pie filling:
3 lbs. Arkansas Black apples, cored and sliced thin
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. freshly ground cinnamon
1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
½ tsp. freshly ground coriander
4 tablespoon butter, cut into cubes
The zest and juice of 1 lemon
A good pinch of salt
A bit of sugar
For the crust:
3 cups unbleached AP flour
2 tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. granulated sugar
2 ½ sticks very cold unsalted butter
½ – ¾ cup very cold water
1 tsp. vinegar
1. To make the filling, toss the sliced apples with sugar, salt, and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, making sure to coat all the slices. Transfer to a strainer placed inside a saucepot. Let the apples macerate at room temperature for an hour, or place in the refrigerator for as long as 8 hours.
2. Transfer the macerated apples to mixing bowl. Place the pot with the liquid from the macerated apples on the stovetop and reduce by a third. Take off heat and add the cubed butter, swirling to incorporate into the syrup.
3. Let the reduced apple syrup cool down to 100 degrees, then add cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander, lemon zest, and the reserved macerated apples. Mix well. Taste and add more lemon juice and/or cinnamon to your liking.
4. Place the filling in the refrigerator until ready to assemble the pie.
5. To make the dough, mix flour, salt, and sugar in a large mixing bowl.
6. Cut butter into 1 tablespoon pats and toss into the flour mixture. Using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour, breaking down the butter into roughly pea-sized pieces. It's okay if there are larger chunks of butter. Put flour-butter mixture into the freezer for about 30 minutes to firm up the butter.
7. Mix together the iced water and vinegar.
8. Once the flour-butter mixture has been properly chilled, take it out of the freezer. Using your fingers, make depressions all over the surface of the flour. Sprinkle some water into the depressions. Still using your hands, gently incorporate the water into the flour. Repeat the process and continue adding water until the dough, when pressed, holds its shape. Depending on the humidity and the flour, you might not need to use all the water.
9. Gently press the dough down to create a flat mass of dough. Using a bench scraper, cut the dough into eight sections. Stack four sections onto of each other and press down, creating layers of butter trapped inside dough. Flatten dough again and wrap in plastic wrap. This is for your bottom crust. Repeat with the remaining four sections to make dough for your lattice top. Place both packages of dough in the refrigerator for about 2 hours to relax the gluten.
10. To assemble and bake the pies, preheat oven to 420 degrees.Take out both packages of dough and roll them into 11-inch disks. Put one disk back in the refrigerator and use the other one to line the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan (glass or ceramic is best). You should have some overhang.
11. Add the apples to the pan and place in the refrigerator while you prep the dough for the lattice top.
12. Take out the remaining package of dough and, using a bench scraper, cut into 16 strips. Take the unfinished pie from the refrigerator and top with strips of dough placed in a lattice pattern.
13. Cut away the overhang and crimp the edges using the tines of a fork, then sprinkle the top with a bit of sugar for a little gloss.
14. Bake at 420 degrees for 30 minutes. Lower the heat to 400 degrees. Rotate the pie if it's browning unevenly on one side. Bake for another 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling.
Diep Tran is the owner and chef of Good Girl Dinette in Highland Park. Read about her and her restaurant on her blog, follow her on Instagram and Twitter. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.