I think about Delta Sweeney a lot, especially when I’m baking. She and her husband, Douglas, lived around the corner from us, in the old Mansfield house. Miss Delta was short and pudgy; Mr. Douglas was short and round. I remember him going to, and coming home, from work. And eating all of his weekday meals inside a slanted, enclosed sun porch, on a worn, leather recliner that had been placed in front of a folding food tray, and an old television set. In stark contrast to the rest of the spotless house, Mr. Douglas’s sun porch was littered with timeworn newspapers and fishing magazines, and smelled like a years-worth of cigar smoke.
Miss Delta was an expert multi-tasker. She would wash the dishes, iron the clothes, sweep the floor, dust the living room, and hold Mama a detailed, womanly conversation, all at the same time. Everything in her life seemed to center on Mr. Douglas’s comings and goings. She would say things like, “Better start supper, Sweeney’ll be home soon.” Or, “I better plate Sweeney something. He likes to nibble on something sweet while he’s waitin’ on his dinner.”
I don’t remember Miss Delta for her home baking; especially, for her home-baked sweets. When I think of her culinary skills, what comes to my mind, are her delicious soups and stews, her well-seasoned meats, her delectable stove-top corn breads, and her beautifully laid out shelves—they were always full of store bought cookies, candy boxes, and packages of store-bought pie crusts. I also think about her wonderful ability to take a store-bought dessert and rearrange it so that it looked, and tasted, homemade. For instance, she would add chopped nuts and fruits to store-bought cookie dough and you would never know that she hadn’t made the cookies from scratch. She would buy plain cupcakes and top them with her own glaze, to give them a warm and delicious, and homemade look and taste. And she would run the backside of a large spoon around the edges of her store-bought frozen pie crusts, to give them that homemade look and taste. Sometimes, she just trimmed off the machine-made crimps on frozen pies, altogether, and fashioned her own. I remember Miss Delta saying that most of her sweet things came from farmer’s markets and Mom and Pop bakeries. Now that I’m older, and a home cook myself, I realize that those are the places that carry the best smelling, and looking, hand-made goods.
One day. while my mother and Miss Delta sat in the living room, having one of their wifely conversations—Miss Delta was older than Mama, and gave some enlightening, womanish, insights—I remember sitting at Miss Delta’s kitchen table, munching on a helping of the delectable store bought treat that she had set in front of me—if I’m not mistaken, she had placed a dollop of softened, vanilla ice cream between two soft, store-bought oatmeal cookies, and called them ice cream sandwiches—and thinking that one day, I would buy all of my desserts from the store and refashion them, the way that Miss Delta did, so that they would taste and look delightful. And homemade.
Mama knew pies, and she knew that Miss Delta had made hers with store-bought fillings and store-bought crusts, but she would tell me that once Miss Delta put her special touches on hers, she made the best homemade pies in town.
Once, my mother said to me, “For one reason or the other, not all women cook. If a woman doesn’t cook, that’s okay; as long as she knows where to go to get good-looking food, and how to arrange it in her cupboard, so that it looks good to eat.” For me, the statement clarified so much of what I loved about Miss Delta’s deliciously-arranged, store-bought cabinets, and it enlightened me further, about the influence that good scratch food, made on a person’s mind. It was suddenly clear to me—that men were natural hunters…and that women, by nature’s design, were food gatherers. Good cooks, are the women who know how to stock their shelves in an alluring way…they know how to plate their food so that it looks and smells enticing. And if they don’t cook, they know what to gather, and where to shop to get it. Women are gatherers.
This after-work pie is perfect for working women who want a quick and easy dessert to accompany a week night meal, and stay-at-home women who are raising small children, and need a Zen moment away from it all. Men love this pie. But we all know that we shouldn’t tell one all of our little secrets…in other words, he may love the pie, but he doesn’t have to know how easy it was for you to make.
Delta Sweeney’s Homemade Store-Bought Apple Pie
For The Apple Pie
2 store-bought 9-inch pie crusts (the boxed kind)
1 large egg white
2 (21 ounces) cans of store-bought apple pie filling
½ cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
For The Apple Pie Glaze
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon milk or heavy cream
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, optional
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, combine the apple pie filling and brown sugar. Gently, blend the brown sugar into the pie filling. Sprinkle the mixture with the ground cinnamon and ground nutmeg. Gently stir in the vanilla extract. Line a glass pie plate with the bottom pie crust. Brush it with the egg white to keep it from getting soggy. Let the egg white dry. Spoon the seasoned filling into the pie crust. Dot the pieces of butter, evenly, over the entire pie. Unfold the second pie crust over the apple pie filling. Trim the overhang to about ½ to 1-inch. Fold the top and bottom crust edges together, folding them downward, to create a seal around the edges of the pie. Using your fingers, or the tines of a fork, crimp the edges. Brush the top of the pie with the glaze.
To make the apple pie glaze, in a small bowl, whisk together the large egg yolk and milk, or heavy cream if you desire. Whisk well. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the granulated sugar and the ground cinnamon (the ground cinnamon is optional), until the mixture is well-combined. Lightly brush the egg yolk mixture over the top of the pie. Evenly sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture over the top. Using a small paring knife, cut 3 to 4 slits in the top of the pie to allow the steam to escape. Place the pie on a baking tin to catch any spilling. Then, put it in the preheated 350-degree oven. Bake the pie at 350 degrees, for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the pie is nicely browned and the filling is bubbling through the slits. Take the pie out of the oven and let it cool completely on a wire rack before serving.
NOTE: You can fit the pie with a pie shield, or a ring of tin foil to prevent the edges from over browning. Also note: I glaze the tops of all of my double-crust pies, to get the pretty shine and rich color that sets a good pie apart. Sometimes, when I take my double-crust pie out of the oven, I thin ¼ cup of light corn syrup with a small amount of hot water, and brush the tops with the mixture, then sprinkle it evenly, with about 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar. I put the pie back in the oven for a couple of minutes, just to let the mixture set.
Makes One double-crust apple pie.