I have wanted a recipe for my childhood apple pie ever since I was old enough to know that Lynnwood Browne, the pie maker, would someday die. Lynnwood, a West Indian ex-dancer who wore a toupee, was our family cook and all-around helper for 34 years. He was not a great talent in the kitchenwe ate a lot of boiled or broiled dinnersbut he did excel at a few things. His fried chicken and his brownies were paragons. And his apple pie was unforgettable. The crust was flaky and light; the apples were a rich brown, luscious and tender; and there was a mysterious, spectacular layer of caramel-like goo along the bottom that has stuck in my memory to this day.
My desire to re-create that pie would probably have passed long ago if I weren't the editor in chief of a food magazine. It would be just one item on the list of memories that I revisit in my imagination from time to timethe trip I took to Russia, the antiques shops I went to with my father, the feeling of holding my grandfather's hand. At F&W, however, food memories are cosseted, coveted, shaped into stories. My food-memory bank, unfortunately, is filled with ersatz dishes. Where is the inspiration in Chef Boyardee? The idea of a pie quest grew. I wanted to join the ranks of cooks who can create nostalgia out of flour, eggs and butter; the puzzle solvers who can turn memories into recipes.
I needed an interpretera channeler, really. So I went to one of the best bakers in the universe, Peggy Cullen. Peggy's schedule was packed with finishing a book, traveling and preparing for a family visit, yet she agreed to take this project on. (One benefit of being the editor of F&W is that people say yes even when they might want to say no.) The task seemed easy to me: I was very specific, and Lynnwood was very conventional. He didn't use any fancy French techniques or hard-to-find ingredients. But Peggy had her doubts. As I was to learn later, she worried she'd never be able to please me. After all, I'd been hankering for this pie since Lynnwood died 10 years ago. How could anyone possibly satisfy such a craving?