"When the American colonist arrived from Europe, they brought with them an enduring fear of drinking water, and rightly so. Sanitation in 17-century England, Holland, France and Spain was virtually nonexistant. It was common practice to throw just about everything into the rivers from which drinking water was drawn. Theories relating bacteria and disease had not yet been developed, but everyone understood that drinking open water was tantamount to suicide. Perrier, Evian and Contrex had not begun the development of their export programs and the American colonist turned to fermented applie cider as their basic drink.
Cider was undoubtedly the central motive behind the enormous importance of the apple crop in early America, but there were other good reasons. Apples were easy to keep. Put down in layers of straw or dried in slices, strung like decorations from the rafters, apples held from fall to spring without pickling. Cores and peels were used to brew a class of beer. The foam that covered the top of the beer during the fermentation process was so rich in yeast it was regularly used in bread making.
The phrase "as American as apple pie" aptly describes our colonial gastronomy, and most of the utensils associated with apple cookery have remained virtually the same during the ensuing 200 years.
The oldest piece of equipment is The White Mountain Apple Parer and Corer and it's been manufactured in America since 1750. It mounts on the edge of a table with a screw clamp. To use it, you pull the wooden handle and the drive shaft as far back as possible, and mount the apple on the three-pronged fork at the end of the shaft. As you turn the handle, the apple is moved forward until it comes in contact with a razor-shaped blade that adapts its cutting to the contours of the apple. As the apple moves past the blade, the skin is peeled off in a single continuous strip about 1/2-inch wide. Just past the blade is a device that looks like a steel question mark; it removes the core while at the same time cutting the apple into slices about 1/4-inch thick.
The best models have a frame that is made of painted cast iron with a stainless-steel shaft, slicer and cutting blade and a screw-clamp mount. Contemporary manufacturers have taken this wonderful object and reproduced it in plastic with a vacuum base for holding it in place on a table surface. Asthetic preferences aside, this modern imitation is just terrible. The vacuum mount doesn't hold properly and the knife doesn't cut well. The thing must have Johnny Appleseed turning in his tomb. The original model which sells for about $16 is a joy, yielding peeled, cored and sliced apples with very little effort required on the part of the cook.
The apple corer consists of a ring of metal about 1/2-inch in diameter attached to one side of a trough with a wooden handle at the other end. The front edge of the ring has been sharpened. To use the corer, you place the ring on the top of the apple. Make sure the apple is secure on the table surface and will not slide about. Then press down on the corer handle. The cutting edge of the ring should slide through the center of the apple. A slight turn of the tool should release the core into the trough. Then withdraw the apparatus and the core is removed.
So much for the theory. In reality, apples come with different sized cores. Used on a crab-apple, this corer will deliver a mini hoolahoop, while a Mcintosh may very well finish up with a mess of seeds still inside. Add to this the fact that to be effective you must come directly down through the core or you will miss some of the material you want to remove. However, if you have decided that baked apples with cinnamon and raisin filled centers are on the menu, this non-knife cutting instrument can make life easier. It retails for about $4, and it's a good idea to think about the size of the apple you use most often and take one along to the store if you decide to buy a corer. That way, you can make sure the diameter of the cutting collar on the corer will do its job properly.
The Apple Corer and Slicer looks like a spoked wheel with a hollow center. It is placed above an apple and pushed down. The central collar cores the fruit while the spokes slice it into 14 bite-sized pieces. There are seven slightly different models of this tool in general distribution. The best is made by Westmark and has a 4-inch diamenter cast aluminum frame with highly sharpened stainless-steel blades. This tool needs a fair amount of push so full-sized handle grips are very important. It's priced at $7.
No list of equipment for apple cookery would be complete without the distinctly "American" slope-sided apple pie pan. The most widely available pie pan is the inexpensive Pyrex glass model. It's wonderful to be able to look through the pan and see how your crust is doing. The very word Pyrex is a combination of the Greek word, pyr meaning fire and the Latin word rex meaning king. Since the first Pyrex products were pie plates, the manufacturer had a very pleasant pun. They are available in several diameters. The baker must bear in mind that glass heats differently than metal and the pies will finish about 10 minutes faster than in metal pans (9-inch model, $1.79, 10-inch model, $1.99).
The Pie Pan with Juice-Saver Rim made by Vollrath consists of a standard 9-inch diameter stainless-steel pie pan with a 1-inch rim. The rim has a deep trough to catch any juices that bubble over the edge while the pie is baking. Most experienced cooks will put a baker's sheet under a metal pie pan in order to even out the base heat as well as catch any spills, but this design works perfectly well. Its suggested retail price is $5.
European fruit tarts are usually prepared on baker's sheets with their form held by a flan ring.After baking they slide off on to an attractive dish for serving. American fruit pies, on the other hand, are baked in pans which are eventually brought to the dining table. Unfortunately, the two pans which I have just described are not the most attractive serving dishes, and I have yet to see someone regularly remove slope sided apple pies from their baking pans in one piece. Of course, you can slice and serve individual pieces in the kitchen, but I love the look of a great big pie sitting on a side table during dinner.
The solution is a pie pan that does its job in the oven but is attrative enough to bring to the table. The Bennington pie plates and Stangl plates are perfect. Both dishes are made in old American potteries. Bennington Potters have been working in Vermont since 1878 and Stangl Pottery Works in Pennsylvania since 1805. These dishes are easy to clean, unaffected by foods and beautiful. The Bennington is $8, the Stangl is $16.