Photo by Masha Fathi on Unsplash

I have a secret that may be worth discovering.

If I do say so myself, I make a mean apple pie. But no one has ever called it the best pie they ever tasted. That prize most often goes to a grandmother long dead. Someone always says, “I think Cousin Louise has her recipe.” There is no competing with a memory from long ago. Why would you read about making an apple pie for someone who doesn’t make the best apple pie ever? Because I have a secret that may be worth discovering if you read on.

I’ve been making apple pie for about thirty-five years, roughly half of my life. My secret is not a magic formula or secret ingredient. I started cooking when I found myself living alone, with no wife or mother to handle the necessary life skills like planning and cooking meals or making desserts. Realizing my incompetence, I followed the advice of a woman at my church, advice she received from her mother-in-law when she was married. “If you know how to read, you know how to cook,” she told me. I immediately went out to buy my first cookbook. My apple pies recipe comes from that book.

My first rule for cooking is to follow the recipe. Most cooks that I know do not follow this rule. They use a recipe but fail to measure, or they use a little less of this and decide some of that will make it better. My apple pie has evolved a little. I use ten instead of eight apples, and my pie plate has a ten-inch diameter. I wouldn’t say it’s a mile high pie, but it’s not thin, which is one of the reasons I like my pie, plenty of apples in a slice. But otherwise, I follow the recipe.

Every year, my church has an annual fundraiser, “Pies on the Common.” Members of the congregation make pies with the goal of 500 pies. I make three pies for this event. The only pie I make is apple. While I like all pies, I think apple pie is the only real food. Why would I make anything but an apple pie? Two sisters meet in the church hall the day before “Pies.” They bake over one hundred apple pies. One year my wife volunteer to peel apples for them but was unable due to a conflict, so she sent me instead. Here was where I learned the trick that just knocked my socks off.

I peel apples with a paring knife. Then, holding the apple, I cut slices off until only the core remains. That’s how my mom did it. After over thirty years of making apple pies this way, I learned the trick that saves me ten or fifteen minutes per pie and produces a better result. I still peel them the same way, all of them before slicing. But now I slice them on a chopping board. I cut the apple into four sections leaving the square core behind. Then I slice these sections on the board. When I saw the lady from church slice her apples this way, my jaw fell. It is so much easier.

It never occurred to me to do it any differently than the way it always was done. I use three different apples per pie, and I had stopped using Granny Smiths because they remained crunchy when the others were soft. Now I can cut them thinner than the others, so they soften when cooking. When slicing the apples, I use a chef’s knife. So that’s my trick, cut your apples on a cutting board.

Using a cutting board is in none of my cooking books. If you already do this, share your knowledge with others. Pie making is usually a solitary activity. When would someone learn this so obvious method if their mother didn’t use it?