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Mammy’s Apple Pie

October 17, 2011

The aroma of an apple pie baking in the wood stove wafted up to the pagoda atop the caboose at the end of the moving freight train. Inside the red caboose the cook was busily preparing a meal for the railroad crew. Tantalized by the aroma, the brakeman, posted on top, bent over the railing.

Above the clatter of the rumbling train, he shouted to the cook below, “Is that pie ready yet?”

Those were his last words.

Somewhere before Tullahoma, Tennessee, at a bend on the mountain grade, the brakeman was jolted as he leaned from his perch. He was hurled to the double tracks below. Sprawled, unconscious, and unnoticed, the brakeman was struck and killed by a speeding locomotive traveling on the opposing tracks headed toward Murfreesboro.

The brakeman, William Morgan Neely, was my great-grandfather. His death is shrouded in mystery. Presumably, the erratic motion of the train dislodged him from the roof of the caboose. Some say he was drunk. He might have been. He not only had a weakness for apple pie but also for Jack Daniels.

An old proverb attests to the health benefits of the fruit: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Unfortunately, apples baked in a pie in the caboose of a moving train were not so healthy for my great-grandfather.

Neely kin have always had a weakness for apple pie. I visited my grandparents’ home frequently when I was a boy. In their backyard was a tall apple tree. I have no idea what variety those small, knobby apples were. When the fruit ripened in the early fall, the speckled yellow apples with a blush of red on one side were almost too tart to eat. One bite of the sour harvest made my jaws ache bringing a grimace and a pucker to my face. Peeled, sliced, and baked in Mammy’s lattice-top pie and crowned with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, the apples made the sweetest dessert this side of heaven.

I never missed an opportunity to get my feet under Mammy’s kitchen table.  Her apple pie was always a highlight. Through the years, family members in several generations have tried to duplicate her pie. Though some have gotten close to the original, all would agree that Mammy must have added a secret ingredient that is yet to be discovered.

Mammy’s daughter, my Aunt Ann, recently talked with me about Mammy’s pie. Her recipe below has been passed along through the years to family members.

Mammy’s Lattice-top Apple Pie

Crust ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 10 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/3 cup chilled solid vegetable shortening, diced
  • ice water

Filling ingredients:

  • 8-10 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • dash of salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup apple juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

For crust:

  1. Mix flour, sugar, and salt.
  2. Add butter and shortening, mixing until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
  3. Add 6 tablespoons ice water and mix until moist clumps form.
  4. If dough seems dry add more water a teaspoonful at a time.
  5. Roll dough into ball, and divide it into 2 equal-sized balls.
  6. Flatten each ball into a disk.
  7. Wrap each separately in plastic wrap; chill 2 hours.
For filling:
  1. Peel and slice apples into large mixing bowl.
  2. Add lemon juice to apples.
  3. In separate bowl, combine all dry ingredients and stir to mix.
  4. In another bowl, combine the liquid ingredients and stir to mix.
  5. Pour dry and liquid mixtures over apples and stir well.


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Let dough soften slightly before rolling out.
  3. On floured surface roll out 1 dough disk to 12-inch round.
  4. Transfer to 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish. Fold edge under, forming rim; crimp
  5. Add filling.
  6. On floured surface roll out second dough disk to 13-inch round.
  7. Cut into twelve 1-inch-wide strips.
  8. Arrange 6 strips across pie.
  9. Form lattice by arranging 6 strips diagonally across first strips.
  10. Gently press ends into crust edges.
  11. Brush lattice with milk.
  12. Sprinkle lightly with additional sugar.
  13. Place in oven and bake 15 minutes.
  14. Remove from oven.
  15. To prevent burning of the crust, cover entire pie surface with foil.
  16. Cut slits in center of foil and peel back to the outer edge.
  17. Reduce heat to 375 degrees.
  18. Continue baking until juices bubble thickly and the crust is golden, about 1 hour or more.
  19. Cool on rack 1 hour.
  20. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Twenty-six years ago, when I was told I was diabetic, I said goodbye to Mammy’s apple pie.

Aunt Ann surprised me with a sugar-free rendition that substitutes Splenda and concentrated apple juice for the sugar.

Several years ago, a young cousin tried to prepare Mammy’s apple pie. It was to be the dessert following a chili supper. Somewhere in the process she put cinnamon in the chili and chili powder in the pie. That was definitely not Mammy’s secret ingredient!

Kirk H. Neely
© October 2011

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