Mock Apple Pie (Secret Ingredient: Zucchini)
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I first heard about a version of this pie when I was about 10 years old. I was reading The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Ma Ingalls wanted to surprise Pa by making an apple pie. The trouble was that the apples weren't ripe yet. So she cut up a green pumpkin, added cinnamon and spices and put it in a pie shell. I remember Pa was bewildered that Ma found apples at "that time of year."
I remember this being one of the first moments when I realized fruits and vegetables had a season. And "back then" you couldn't just go to the grocery store and buy apples year round.
I've since read the Laura Ingalls Wilder series more times than I can count, and every time I come to that part of the Long Winter, the Mock Apple Pie idea sticks with me. Fast forward 10 years. When I finally had a garden worth it's work, and zucchini coming out of my ears, I decided to try a mock apple pie but use zucchini instead.
Honestly, my first Mock Apple Pie was pretty darned good. If you want a decent apple replacement, simply substitute zucchini for apples in your favorite apple pie recipe. I love this substitute because if you garden, you know how prolific zucchini can be. It's hard sometimes to use up all that squash before it goes bad. You can also use those monster zucchini for this recipe (the ones that you forget to pick) just cut the pieces a bit smaller.
But over the years I've done some research. Firstly, I got my hands on the Little House Cookbook. Even if you hate cookbooks, this is still an interesting read.
I've also found, that if you really want to make zucchini taste like apples, you need 3 things:
cream of tarter
a short blanch in boiling water
Zucchini is a rather neutral flavor...it pretty much tastes like whatever you cook it with. Which is why it's so versatile.
My terrible explanation of the science behind Mock-Apple Pie
Cream of Tarter
There's a bit of science behind why cream of tarter is so important to this recipe. Cream of Tarter or potasium bitartrate turns sucrose into glucose and fructose. It breaks down the molecule. Fructose is the sugar that naturally occurs in fruit. So as the pie bakes, the sugars convert, and when you eat it, your brain thinks you're eating fruit.
Lemon juice lends a tart, fruity, acidic flavor. Apples, on average range around 3.1 to 3.8 in acidity, (depending on the variety and ripeness. Fruit looses acidity as it ripens.). Foods with a ph higher than 3.1 are pretty sour.
My favorite apple to make pies with are Macintosh which have a ph of 3.3
zucchini ph: 6.5
lemon ph: 2
When the two are mixed, (in a non-scientific way) the acidity of the lemon helps bring the ph of the zucchini down a bit. Which seems to be a similar ph to a nice pie-baking apple, like Macintosh.
All that to say, the lemon juice makes the zucchini more sour like an apple.
If I was going to skip a step in this whole process, it would be the blanching. I've make the pie both ways, blanching and not blanching. Blanching does make the zucchini texture more apple-like. But I hate blanching things (we never have ice in our house) so I'd rather just deal with the slightly less-appleish texture. The blanching process breaks down the zucchini making it more grainy (like an apple) and less slippery/firm (like zucchini).
After blanching, be sure to dry the zucchini with paper towel.
Pie baking tip
I always use a crust protector when baking pies. It's an inexpensive metal ring that prevents the thinner, crimped crust from burning. You can also use tin foil, but I find it fiddly and bothersome to get around the crust just right.
Zucchini Mock Apple Pie
6-8 cups zucchini (peeled, cut lengthwise, seeds removed, sliced 1/4 inch thick)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp cream of tarter
3 Tbsp flour
1/2 tsp salt
juice 1 lemon
1 tablespoon butter cubed
2 pie crusts (top and bottom) try my Basic, Easy Pie Crust recipe
1 egg beaten with a bit of water (to brush on crust)
sanding sugar (for sprinkling on the crust)
1. Preheat oven to 425
2. Blanch zucchini slices in boiling water for 2 minutes. (see above note on blanching) Remove with a slotted spoon and place in ice water. Once cool, dry thoroughly with paper towel.
3. In a bowl, mix zucchini with sugars, cinnamon, lemon juice, cream of tarter, flour and salt.
4. Place bottom crust in a 9 inch pie pan
5. Fill with Zucchini mixture
6. Dot with the cubes of butter
7. Top with second crust, be sure to cut vent holes, pinch edges together.
8. Brush crust with egg and water mixture, sprinkle with sanding sugar
9. Bake for 15 minutes at 425
10. Reduce heat to 350 and bake an additional 45 minutes.