While in Nantucket last summer, Jay and I managed to tear ourselves away from our Dark and Stormies long enough to ride the ten mile long bike path to ‘Sconset. We had a delectable lunch at the Sconset Cafe, including the aptly named “best chowder on the island.” Light, brothy and herbaceous, their clam chowder is a far cry from the gloopy white stuff one finds elsewhere.
Very full and very sore, we rode the long path home, stopping to explore the cranberry bogs.
We dismounted near a group of large signs which displayed photographs and history of the bogs. At least, I think that’s what they displayed. Before I could read a single word, I heard frenetic, high-pitched buzzing in my ears, and the backs of my knees began to itch wildly.
We jumped on our bikes and pedaled away as fast as we could.
Were I not terrified of mosquitos, whose angry, red welts wake me up every night for a week after being probed, I’m sure I would have all sorts of interesting facts to share about cranberries.
But instead, my knowledge of cranberries is limited the following:
1) They grow in bogs.
2) They taste good.
They taste especially good when paired with ingredients that tame their astringent tartness, like apples, pears, warm spices, vanilla, and sweeteners.
This pie starts with a super flaky, all-butter crust, which gets parbaked to maintain a crisp bottom, then deeply caramelized throughout a long bake. A foil shell protects the crust from burning, and the result is bronzed, crunchy and flavorful.
Next, sliced apples, cranberries and candied ginger combine with sugar, lemon and a little flour to make a bright, firm and tangy filling. A leisurely bake ensures tender, gooey apples dotted with jammy pockets of cranberry. I used some fun heirloom apples that I found at my co-op – Rome, Black Arkansas and Winesap. If you ever see any of these, snap them up! Romes are firm and tart, but with more nuanced flavor and less aggressive sourness than Granny Smiths. Black Arkansas have a deep burgundy skin; their crunchy flesh tastes a bit like roses. Winesaps are soft, floral, and break down nicely in a pie. But any tart baking apple will do here, such as Fuji, Pink Lady, Honeycrisp, or Granny Smith combined with McIntosh.
Finally, an oat and brown sugar streusel tops it all off. The recipe comes from Three Babes, the pie maestras (piestras?) of San Francisco. (And it’s not too late to pick up a pie or two for Thanksgiving.) A unique blend of cinnamon, allspice, ginger and plenty of salt give the buttery topping an incredible depth of flavor which tastes almost fruity. The amount of streusel will seem excessive at first, but when baked, the pie flattens to normal proportions, with big hunks of crunchy topping hanging out among sandier crumbs.
I wish I could enjoy a bowl of Sconset Cafe’s quahog chowder right about now. Ah well, I’ll just have to settle for another piece of this pie. (And thankfully, no mosquitos.)
If you can find them, heirloom apples such as Rome, Black Arkansas and Winesap make an amazing pie with complex flavors. Otherwise, use any combination of Fuji, Pink Lady, Honeycrisp, or Granny Smith. Give yourself plenty of time to make this pie, as the crust requires some chilling time, the pie a long bake, and two hours of setting to be sliceable. Serve slices with Vanilla, Honey Yogurt or Fresh Ginger ice cream, or lightly sweetened whipped cream. Or nothing – this pie stands on its own. All ounce measurements are by weight.