The Aroma of a Memory: Apple Crumb Pie


Like most basic white girls, I eagerly await the advent of fall. The crispness in the air is positively life-giving after a long, sticky summer. Everything feels fresh and new, which is the epitome of irony, given that fall is the beginning of the end. 

The Danish concept of hygge, pronounced “hoo-guh” and defined as “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being,” is typically most closely associated with winter.

It’s a way to put a positive spin on the time of year when the blustery, miserable weather can lead to cabin fever and a sense of confinement. By romanticizing a firelight’s glow, a steaming mug of something delicious, and soft, cozy socks and blankets, the Danish seem to have single-handedly reduced rates of seasonal affective disorder. It’s truly a beautiful thing. 

Given that I’ve spent the vast majority of my life in warmer climates, I tend to fabricate seasons in spite of what the thermometer reads. In the absence of a crackling fire in the fireplace that we do not have, I light candles. Jackets and sweaters are rarely necessary, but lightweight versions of them allow me to play the part. Though the temps in my neck of the woods have yet to drop, I do my best to get festive in the kitchen, incorporating the flavors and textures of the season as best I can. 

For me, nothing says hygge quite like the sweet-spicy aroma of apples and cinnamon fresh out of the oven. My grandmother shared her recipe for Apple Crumb Pie with me years ago. Simple enough that I could easily put it together as a child; timeless enough that I’m still making it all these years later. I wrote out the recipe on a 3×5 card as a kid, and it’s still the same card I reference now, in case it’s been a few months since I made it last, and I question the ability of my memory to get the measurements right. 

Each bite of this pie is seasoned with nostalgia. 

In college, I used it as currency. I didn’t have laundry facilities in my tiny backyard apartment that I lived in my junior year, but some good friends of mine did. The laundry room was enormous in their palace of a house and it was only two blocks away. They would let me do my laundry at their place, in exchange for apple pie. Their only request was that I let it bake in their house, so the delicious scent would permeate the whole place all afternoon. 

I made it every January for my dad’s birthday, at his request. My dad grew up in Brazil. I was born there, too, and lived there  until age 3. As a chatty toddler, I spoke both English and Portuguese. In Portuguese vernacular, word for Dad is Pai, which is pronounced “pie.” I used to call this dessert Apple Daddy, back when my language skills were in early development and I would still interchange English and Portuguese words. As I grew and we moved back to the States, my Portuguese faded into a distant memory. But my childish translation for apple pie became family lore, and my dad signed his cards “Love, your Apple Daddy” long after I reached adulthood. 

My dad and my grandmother have both passed away now, making these memories even more sweet. The remembrance of them warms my heart even more than this confection warms my body. It all causes me to welcome the changing of seasons with even greater fervor.  

Apple Crumb Pie

9-inch pie crust
4-5 medium apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Crumb Top
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup butter

Use a pre-made pie crust, or make your own. I’ve done both, depending on how ambitious I’m feeling. Either way, make sure the crust is in a 9-inch pan. Arrange the apples in the pastry-lined pie pan so that they make a generous mound (they’ll shrink down a bit as they cook). I have used Granny Smith and Honeycrisp apples with great success. You want to pick an apple that is slightly tart, with a good, crisp bite to it. Mix the cinnamon and sugar together, then sprinkle the mixture over the apples. 

For the crumb top, sift together the sugar and flour. Using a pastry blender (like this one), cut in the butter until you make a pea-sized (or less) crumble. Then top the pie with the crumb topping. I like to use a spoon and do it a little at a time, so the butter crumbles get into all the apple nooks and crannies (instead of falling all over your counter top). 

Pop it into a 450 degree oven for 10 minutes to give the crumb top crust a chance to brown, then turn the oven down to 325 degrees for 30-40 minutes until it’s bubbling and done. Enjoy the hour of intoxicating aromas that precede the first bite. 

Stay cozy, my friends.

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As an Active Duty Air Force Officer, Emily is proud to wear the uniform herself. She is stationed in San Antonio, where both she and her civilian husband are medical professionals. A working mama with a crazy schedule, a toddler and a newborn, she could not live without coffee, Amazon Prime, and a lot of help. Favorite pastimes include experiencing live music, eating amazing food, and crossing destinations off her travel bucket list. Navigating the challenges of working outside the home while having babies has made her passionate about women helping women and a firm believer in the truth that you can never have too much grace for yourself.