Words and Recipes by
Before the Pie
An apple-picking picnic
It is a gleaming morning, cool and blue. The air is light and heady, having shed summer like a damp beach towel. The sunlight bounces off leaves just turning from dark green to yellow, red, and orange, promising a day of country roads, sweeping fields, and deciduous forests bathed in a crisp, golden glow.
It can only be an autumn morning in Maine. This particular cocktail of air and light exists in the eye-blink crystal space where the remnants of summer’s wet gleam and the incoming wind and ice of winter come together in one single, rarified dose.
There is an orchard out there waiting for you. Acres of green-leafed apple trees, laden with fruit in colors that put the maples to shame. Ruby, pink, wine, gold, and reds so dark you’ll call them black. There will be baskets to borrow there, and poles with hooks and bags to help you reach the fruit at the very tops of trees, because those are the very best. There will be bakeries at these orchards, fragrant with warm cider doughnuts, bubbling pies, and glazed cakes. There will be barrels upon barrels of already-picked apples of all varieties. And sometimes, there will even be music.
There will be fields and lawns there, still green and soft as moss, welcoming your blanket, your basket, and your company. And on this sweet, bright morning, there will be time to prepare a meal that you will pack in a basket, or a bag, or a bucket, and then eat outside in the warm afternoon sun.
Your picnic will contain French-inspired hand pies made from golden yeasted bread, instead of pie pastry. They will be sturdy but soft, and filled with a Nioiseniçoise-style salad of artichokes, olives, and tangy feta cheese. They will be a snap to put together; perfect for preparing on a quiet cool morning before your outing.
There will be an unusual salad of sliced vegetables; a fresh giardiniera-esque side dish of cauliflower, fennel, and crisp pears, marinated in a dressing redolent with anchovies and garlic.
To drink, you’ll have prepared an almost-sweet spritzer of sparkling water and jasmine tea, steeped overnight in the refrigerator with rosemary and apple slices. It will quench your thirst and keep your basket cool while you’re in the orchard.
And finally, there will be a simple, boozy, spiced caramel sauce in which to dip your freshly harvested fruit. Made with honey instead of sugar and softened with butter and cream. You’ll make it either with or without the whiskey and with either more spice or less. It is a sauce that can be riffed upon endlessly.
This is the meal you will eat after you’ve picked the apples and before you go home and bake the pie. It’s the meal that will give you, all of you, the excuse you need to stay longer than just the harvest. To absorb every drop of that autumn elixir that appears, as if by magic, on your morning stoop.
PYO Apple Orchards in Maine
Apple season peaks in Maine from mid-September through October. Orchards dot the state from coast to mountains, and many offer picnic areas for pickers to enjoy an outdoor meal in the gleaming, bug-free fall weather that we all look forward to.
Here are a few that offer pick-your-own (PYO) fruit and a place for picnicking. For a comprehensive list of both PYO and purchase-only orchards, you can visit maineapples.org.
Hansel’s Orchard, 44 Sweetser Rd., North Yarmouth
Open for picking starting September 8.
Hansel’s grows Cortland, McIntosh, Macoun, and Gretel apples. They lend baskets and poles to people who choose to pick their own, and also have plenty of fresh-picked apples for purchase. Pickers are welcome to enjoy a picnic under the trees.
Contact and more info: 207-829-6136 or .
Snell Family Farm, 1000 River Rd., Buxton
Apple-picking season runs from mid-September through mid-October.
While the farm does not have a designated picnic area, pickers are welcome to spread out a blanket and enjoy their meal. Additionally, the farm has a bakery, which is open daily July–Thanksgiving, and a store that is open mid-September until Thanksgiving.
Contact and more info: 207-929-6166 or .
Libby & Son U-Picks, 86 Sawyer Mountain Rd., Limerick
Apple picking season starts in mid-August and continues into November.
The farm grows 15 varieties of apples, and lends apple bags and poles. They have a store and a donut bakery, and also sell coffee, tea, cider, smoothies, and other cold drinks.
There is a shaded picnic area, and shuttles to and from picking areas.
Contact and more info: 207-793-4749 or .
Pietree Orchard, 803 Waterford Rd., Sweden
The orchard grows a whopping 51 varieties of apples and picking season begins in August with a wide choice of early-season fruit. Their farm stand sells produce, donuts, and baked goods. They bake pizza from 11:30am–3pm every day. You are, of course, welcome to bring a picnic and enjoy it in their picnic area.
Contact and more info: 207-647-9419 or .
Sweetser’s Apple Barrel and Orchards, 19 Blanchard Rd., Cumberland
While Sweetser’s is not a PYO orchard, the owners graciously made the orchards available for our photo shoot. The store sells dozens of varieties of apples, with extensive information and tasting notes on each. They also sell baked goods and cider, as well as other produce. There are a few picnic tables on the property and visitors are welcome to enjoy their picnic at a table or under a tree.
Contact and more info: 207-829-6599 or maineapple.com
This recipe requires a simple yeasted dough. If you’ve never made yeasted bread before, don’t worry. It is easier than making a pie crust, and if you have a stand mixer, comes together quickly, with very little room for mistakes. Using a yeasted dough rather than making hand pies from pie crust results in a sturdy picnic sandwich, similar to a French pan bagnat, that can stand up to juicy fillings without getting soggy or falling apart.
Makes 8 bindles
1¼ cups milk
1 tablespoon sugar
2¼teaspoons instant yeast
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons very soft butter or neutral-tasting oil
4 cups flour
1 (14-ounce) can quartered artichoke hearts
3 canned roasted red peppers, diced
¼ cup kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
4 ounces feta cheese, cubed or crumbled
1 handful of parsley leaves, chopped
3 green onions, sliced
Pour the milk into a small sauce pan and heat on medium until it just nears a boil. Remove from heat, and allow to cool until it is just warm.
When the milk has cooled, pour it into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the sugar, yeast, salt, butter, and flour to the bowl. Mix on low with the kneading attachment for 8–10 minutes. The dough should be smooth and firm, but with some give. Form the dough into a ball, place in an oiled bowl, and cover with a clean dish towel. Set in a warm area and allow to rise until the dough has doubled in bulk. This will take about an hour.
Meanwhile, make the filling. Place the artichokes, roasted red peppers, olives, feta cheese, parsley and green onions into a large bowl. Give everything a few stirs to mix the ingredients. No need to overmix. We don’t want it to get mushy.
When the dough has doubled in bulk, heat your oven to 375.
Gently remove the dough from the bowl and place on a lightly floured counter. Flatten the dough with your hands, then roll into roughly an 8-inch-by-16-inch rectangle. Try to avoid kneading or shaping the dough before you start rolling; doing so will just make it more elastic and harder to roll out.
Cut the dough once down the middle lengthwise, and three times at equal intervals across the width. You should end up with 8 4-inch-by-4-inch squares of dough.
Place a scoop of filling on top of each dough square, dividing all the filling evenly among the squares.
Next, grasp two opposite corners of a dough square, and pull them up and over the filling, twisting the ends together at the top. Do the same thing with the other two kitty-corners. You should have a little hobo pack of filling-stuffed dough. Repeat with the other 7 squares.
Bake the bindles for 20–25 minutes, or until the dough is puffed and golden, and any exposed filling is bubbling. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before packing them for a picnic. Bindles are best eaten at room temperature.
Cauliflower, Fennel, and Pear Salad with Garlic-Anchovy Dressing
If you have a mandolin slicer, this is a great opportunity to dust it off and use it to thinly slice the cauliflower, fennel bulb, and pear.
1 (2-ounce) tin anchovy filets in olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled
Juice of ½ lemon
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon whole-grain mustard
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
¾ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
½ head cauliflower, cored and thinly sliced
1 bulb fennel, thinly sliced
1 red pear, cored, halved, and thinly sliced
Handful of parsley leaves, finely chopped
Remove the anchovies from the tin (reserve the oil), place in a mortar with the garlic, and mash with a pestle until you have made a thick paste. Work in the lemon juice, red wine vinegar, mustard, and black pepper. Scrape this mixture into a medium-sized mixing bowl.
Put the reserved anchovy oil in a measuring cup. Add olive oil to measure ¾ cup. Pour the oil in a very thin, steady stream into the anchovy mixture while whisking constantly. The dressing will begin to emulsify, and you can increase the stream of oil until it is all incorporated. Whisk in the grated Parmesan cheese.
(Alternatively, if you have an immersion blender, you can make the dressing by placing the anchovies, garlic, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, mustard, and pepper into a wide-mouth glass pint jar and blending them together until smooth. Add the oil as instructed above, and then blend in the Parmesan cheese.)
Place the cauliflower, fennel, pear, and parsley in a large bowl. Add about ½ cup of the dressing and toss gently, trying not to break up the vegetables too much. Taste the salad, and add more dressing if needed.
Scatter with shaved Parmesan immediately before serving.
Apple-Rosemary Tea Spritzer
Put together this refreshing spritzer the night before your outing, and store it in the refrigerator so it keeps nicely chilled in your picnic basket the next day. It will also help to keep other cold things cold.
Makes ½ gallon
1½ liters sparkling water
1 apple, thinly sliced (no need to core)
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1½ cups brewed jasmine tea
Place all the ingredients in a half-gallon Mason jar (or other container with a secure, airtight lid), and store in the refrigerator overnight.
Serve chilled as is, or over ice.
Spiced, Spiked Honey Caramel Apples
Whichever kind of honey you use to make this sauce, make sure you love it. It will be the predominant flavor, so if it’s not your favorite honey, then this caramel won’t be either. The sauce is quite loose at room temperature and spreadable if it has been chilled. Leftovers should be stored in the refrigerator.
Makes 3 cups
12 ounces honey
1 vanilla bean
16 ounces heavy cream
1 stick cinnamon
2 ounces butter
1–2 tablespoons whiskey
Apples for slicing and dipping
Place the honey in a stainless steel or copper saucepan. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise, scrape out the seeds with a paring knife and put the seeds and pod into the pot with the honey. Heat over a medium-high flame, stirring occasionally, until the temperature on an instant-read thermometer reaches 295 (or until the honey starts to smoke slightly).
While the honey cooks, place the cream in a small saucepan with the cinnamon stick and heat until boiling. Remove pan from the heat and set aside.
When the honey is done, slowly pour the hot cream (and the cinnamon stick) into the pan. It will sputter and spatter, so you might want to wear a glove to protect your hand.
Cook the mixture until it reaches 225, stirring constantly. Add the butter, and stir until melted and fully incorporated. Remove the pan from the heat, and immediately pour the caramel into a bowl. Cool until just barely warm, and then stir in the whiskey. How much you add is entirely up to you. I don’t judge.
At this point you can remove the vanilla bean pod and the cinnamon stick. Or just go ahead and leave them in there. It looks pretty, and since you’ll be dipping things in the sauce, and not pouring it over anything, they won’t really get in the way.
To serve, core and slice several apples and dip the slices into the sauce.
Kate Shaffer is the author of Desserted: Recipes and Tales from an Island Chocolatier, and owns Black Dinah Chocolatiers, an award-winning confectionery with locations in Westbrook and Blue Hill, Maine.