An Ode to Gatherings: Cheddar-Apple Butter Galette
Heirloom is more than the grocery store variety for those from the Midwest. You may inherit your grandfather’s name as your own and it becomes a relic of the Depression-era sensibility that still runs deep in your own blood. You finish your plate because others can’t. You measure the flour and leave the rest in the bag. You make a meal stretch by adding stale breadcrumbs. Heirloom isn’t restricted to tomatoes in the Midwest; it goes deeper. Everything we’ve ever loved and learned has been a hand-me-down from others. You can almost feel that connection when you drive through the plains in Indiana, the window down and your arm cutting the air with an outstretched palm.
The Midwest runs deeper than geography. Having been raised by my parents in an area of Pennsylvania called the Laurel Highlands and raising myself the rest of the way in California, I can attest to this. I’ve felt the pull towards the midland states most during celebrations that act as bookends of life: weddings, births, and funerals. The same families gather at the same churches and there you find the same food on an old foldout card table where your uncles played Euchre. A line forms around the hot dish casseroles, the warm bread wrapped in an old stained cloth napkin, the sticky and bleeding pies with berries so fresh they tasted like sweet wine, and glass pitchers of iced tea, the Lipton bags still floating in it.
The foldable tables were brought into church basements, covered in a clean plastic tablecloth that shined glossy below the white lights. I’d sit down at any open seat, my paper plate sagging under the weight of everything I had chosen as my meal. I usually held my mom’s hand to ensure I could sit by her. My dad would drink a beer and my mother would butter my bread and we’d all sit, picking at the chicken with our fingers and listening to all the voices of a world I lived on the periphery of: between childhood and adulthood, between stranger and family.
Fall was my favorite time for someone to die or get married when I was younger. It meant piles of leaves and cousins gasping for breath in the dusky haze that hangs over the horizon for a couple lazy hours in October. We’d all gather together around an old tire swing in the woods, daring the one another to swing as high as they could on it, hoping the frayed rope didn’t break at the apex. Fall was the time when mornings were most crisp. I’d sit huddled under quilts in the backroom of my aunt’s doublewide trailer and her weak coffee, even when I was eleven, was welcomed to warm me up.
On every table in those harvest seasons between the ages of three to seventeen, there was apple butter in old foggy jars. Most often found unscrewed and next to a pile of white bread for breakfast. I ate my share with a spoon; my mom put a dollop on vanilla ice cream at a baby shower once. Each aunt made her own apple butter a little different; my mom makes hers from stunted apples that grow in a shale bed next to the creek in her backyard. I asked her for her recipe to spread on a piecrust I found in that old Tanglewood cookbook. She said she doesn’t write those kinds of recipes down; they’re all in her instincts now. She’s been making it for 35 years, and so the process is deep inside her.
It wasn’t until later that I realized how vital this gathering around food was, how it existed in my genes as well as my sense memory. How it situated itself on my palette and into the corners of my nerve-endings, always on the outliers of my synapses. I gravitate to those hearty meals; my mom adds a can of Coca-Cola to her ham. I like donuts made from pinched-off biscuit dough and my lemonade so sweet it hurts your teeth. A piece of bread dipped in apple butter is the only thing you need with coffee. These were the years I remember most before bed, seasons of harvest and celebrations of life. How they shaped my worldview, my love of food, and the bonds that tie us together are enriched most in egg, sugar, and flour.
Cheddar-Apple Butter Galettes
Using Ms. Evelyn Menchhofer, Treasurer of Tanglewood Baptist Church’s pie crust recipe, I made these roughshod pies that are great for gatherings, breakfasts, or desserts. The recipe makes 4 medium-sized pies, but can easily be doubled to have extras.
Ingredients for the galette crust:
- 2 cup flour
- ¼ tablespoon salt
- 2 tablespoon sugar
- 1 stick butter, cold and cut into cubes
- 3 tablespoon shortening, cold
- 4 tablespoons ice water
Directions for the crust:
- In a food processor, combine flour, salt and sugar and pulse for a few seconds to blend
- Add butter and shortening and pulse 5-8 times, until fats are incorporated and reduced to the size of peas in flour mixture
- With the motor running, pour ice water in feeding tube, one tablespoon at a time. Dough will start to come together on the third tablespoon, but you may want to add the fourth if dough is too dry
- Pat out onto a floured work surface and quarter with a sharp knife. Form four disks from dough and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate while you make the stovetop apple butter
Ingredients for stovetop apple butter:
- 7-9 honey crisp apples (depending on size), cored and chopped (can leave the skin on, if desired)
- 1 Granny Smith apple, cored and chopped (can leave skin on, if desired)
- 2 tablespoons water
- ½ cup beer (preferably an amber ale)
- 1 tablespoon honey
- ½ to 1 tablespoon cinnamon (to taste)
- ¼ teaspoon salt (highly suggest a light, flaky salt or smoked salt here for a nice flavor)
Directions for apple butter:
- Place all apples in large pot or Dutch oven. Pour water and 2 tablespoons of beer on top of apples and heat on medium
- When it begins to simmer, place lid on pot and let sit for 45 minutes, checking only once at around 30 minutes to ensure nothing is burning. If so, reduce heat a couple notches
- Take lid off and begin stirring with a wooden spoon, scraping the bottom. Deglaze a little with 2 more tablespoons of beer, stir, and replace lid. Continue to cook for 15 minutes.
- Repeat step 3 twice more. Apples should be more and more tender the longer they cook, caramelizing slightly and turning brown
- After an hour and a half of cooking on medium, remove lid and add honey, cinnamon, and salt. Stir, mashing some of the larger chunks of apples with the back of the spoon. Reduce to medium-low without the lid and cook for 20 more minutes
- Mixture should be browned, fragrant, and mostly turned to a spreadable consistency. Take off heat and allow to cool, stirring a couple times. Apple butter will begin to thicken slightly.
- When cool enough to handle, ladle or carefully pour contents of pot into a food processor and pulse until smooth
- Here, you can jar or use for apple butter galettes (I highly suggest the latter, since I made these little bad boys just for you today)
Ingredients for the Cheddar-Apple Butter Galettes:
- 4 discs of pie crust (recipe above)
- 1 cup apple butter (recipe above)
- ¼ cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 1 tablespoon cream or an egg white for a wash
- Preheat oven to 425*F and prepare two baking sheets with parchment paper
- Take chilled dough from fridge and roll a quarter out onto a floured surface until the round is ¼ inch thick
- Spread two spoonfuls of apple butter into the center of the pie crust, leaving a ¾ inch margin on all sides
- Tuck edges toward center of galette, creating a border for the apple butter
- Brush with cream or egg wash and top with a sprinkle of cheddar cheese on border
- Place on parchment paper and repeat steps 2-5 for remaining galettes
- Place in oven and bake for 16-20 minutes, checking at the 16 minute mark for a browned and golden crust and melted cheese.
- Allow to cool slightly and enjoy this undoubtedly Midwest-inspired treat for dessert or breakfast