Pie in the big sky

Cowboy Apple Pie

Finished Cowboy Apple Pie recipe. (Bill Hogan, Chicago Tribune / June 19, 2014)

Camp fosters the cowgirl fantasy. Wake early. Brush down and saddle up. Ride the trails, humming. Then break for breakfast: apple pie with cheddar cheese.

Unclear why the cowgirl takes her pie with cheese. It's tradition, like tumbleweed, sad songs and big sky. The cowgirl, particularly the part-time, summer-camp cowgirl, doesn't buck tradition.

Later, she learns that pie with cheese is known in other enclaves. Vermont, for instance. Wisconsin. Cheddar itself. But then, those venues suffer a surplus of cheese. She wonders: Did riders really pack pie? Was the tradition less cowgirl, more fantasy?

Humming, she browns a skillet of apples and wraps them in cheese-salted pastry. The pie is sweet, tart and savory. It tastes of summer mornings, sad songs and open sky.

Cowgirl apple pie

Prep: 1 hour, plus 1 hour to chill

Bake: 40 minutes

Makes: One 9-inch pie

1 disk cheddar pastry, see recipe

3 pounds (about 7) apples (a mix of tart, such as Granny Smith, and crisp, such as Gala)

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

¾ cup sugar

¼ cup whiskey or brandy (or sub 1 tablespoon cider vinegar)

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon fine salt

1. Slice: Peel, core and slice apples 1/4-inch thick.

2. Soften: Heat butter in a wide skillet over medium-high heat. Slide in apples; cook until softened, about 5minutes.

3. Thicken: Add sugar, whiskey, lemon juice, cinnamon and salt. Cook, stirring, until syrup clings to apples, about 5 minutes.

4. Cover: Scrape cooked apples into a buttered 9-inch cast-iron pan (or a buttered 9-inch pie plate).

5. Roll: Roll out pastry; trim to a 12-inch circle. Fit pastry over apples, tucking in edges. Snip a vent into the center.

6. Bake: Set pan on a rimmed baking sheet. Slide into a 375-degree oven and bake until pastry turns golden brown, 35-40 minutes. Cool and enjoy.

Cheddar pastry: In a food processor, pulse until mixed: 1 cup flour, 2 teaspoons sugar, 1/4 teaspoon fine salt. Drop in 5tablespoons cold unsalted butter, 2tablespoons cold shortening and 3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar. Pulse until mixture looks crumbly. Turn out into a large bowl. Drizzle in about 3 tablespoons cold water, mixing gently with a soft spatula until pastry comes together. Pat into a disk. Wrap and chill 1 hour.

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