Not As American As Apple Pie

By Phoebe Hyde

The suspense was overwhelming, meanwhile confusing. What could be so special about apple pie from Ohio’s Appalachian region, and why was someone bringing apple pie to Saturday’s Ohio University football game tailgate? Typically adorned with a lattice pastry crust and filled with sliced apples marinated in cinnamon, apple pie is a well-known staple of American culture; I could not for the life of me understand the hype around this particular apple pie from Ohio, nor the setting in which it would be served to me. Should I be expecting it to be topped with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and would there be some way to warm it up? I can’t eat cold apple pie…

Early that Saturday morning as my boyfriend Jake’s family and I prepared ourselves for a filled day of tailgating and football at Ohio University, we drenched ourselves in forest green and crisp white to prove our fandom. I was personally dressed in an oversized extra large Ohio University long-sleeve shirt that my boyfriend secretly lent me prior to our arrival, as this would be my first OU game. The bratwursts and onions were simmering in Uncle Kevin’s homemade beer broth and cell phone text chimes were filling the room as family friends were coordinating the location of the tailgate. Meanwhile, Jake received a text from his cousin stating, “I’m bringing apple pie J.” Keeping my confusion to myself, feeling as though I’ve missed some big secret about apple pie being an ordinary tailgate dish, I mirrored Jake’s excitement about his cousin’s “out of-this-world” apple pie. He must be one hell of a baker, I thought to myself. Maybe he’s just bringing it to the tailgate since he never gets a chance to see Jake. My mind wandered.

The morning turned to noon and we finally made our way to the packed lawn beside the convocation center. Moments later I was handed a tightly sealed transparent mason jar filled with light caramel colored liquid, and told to take a small sip (“small” being a critical word). I hesitate. “What is this,” I ask. “It’s apple pie,” Jake’s cousin confidently proclaimed while pushing the jar into my tentative hands.

Having been submerged in an ice-filled personal-sized cooler, the apple pie tasted cool and refreshing in comparison to the Oktoberfest brew I had been previously sipping on that had been quickly warmed by the sun overhead. The surprising taste of cinnamon and baked apples flooded my mouth with a lip-puckering sweetness. A grainy texture lingered on my tongue as the smooth liquid chilled my throat. I attributed the grainy residue to whole cinnamon sticks that had incompletely dissolved in the mixture. Granny Smith apples further contributed to the powerful tart green apple flavor, but there was undoubtedly another ingredient or two that contrasted the acrid taste. Pure sugar (makes sense!). Nearly six cups—a third brown and the rest white. But surely the two Granny Smith apples and six cups of sugar had to have also been accompanied by various complementary liquids to create this concoction that filled the transparent mason jar to the brim. After inquiry, I learned that one gallon of apple juice, a half gallon of “Simply Apple” brand apple juice, and one gallon of pasteurized apple cider were the cinnamon, sugar and apples’ counterparts. Oh, and one more integral component: Moonshine.  This “apple pie” just got a whole lot more dangerous. Among the ingredients previously mentioned, this recipe called for Moonshine—a liquid that is often substituted for Everclear for those without access to moonshine. To put this into perspective, this particular recipe equated to one that consisted of two full bottles of 190 proof (or 95% alcohol) colorless, unflavored, distilled Everclear, thus creating what I came to learn was the true name of this delicacy: apple pie Moonshine. And the story comes full circle.

Moonshine is an illegal whiskey produced in the United States. The term was derived from “illegal Appalachian distillers who clandestinely produced and distributed whiskey.” The presence of Moonshine production is a part of the Appalachian area’s culture, and dates back to the Whiskey Rebellion. The imposition of a tax on whiskey was considered an unwanted federal intervention and was largely ignored. Making moonshine was a way for rural farmers to quickly liquidate their corn when grain prices were low, but many were prosecuted for unlawful distilling. Although the hype around moonshine has been significantly suppressed, moonshining is far from totally over. The cultural history of moonshine in the area is rich and long-winded, but it was finally evident why trying this apple pie in Ohio was a necessity.

Today, Moonshine continues to be produced in the U.S. (mainly in Appalachia and parts of the South) and is often produced as more of a hobby than as a way of consuming a drink that was readily available and far cheaper. And lucky for me, I ran into someone who possesses this hobby. I personally found this to be an ingenious creation. A way to enjoy apple pie in the midst of the most appropriate environment—a brisk, young fall afternoon adorned with leaves changing from green to burnt orange that are being blown to the ground by the large gusts of wind, exaggerated in that one grassy field due the backdrop of the Hocking River. Cold apple pie was, in fact, delicious, and a seemingly underrated delicacy.

I imagine that there is an enormous market of people who have solely been exposed to the traditional warm, oven-baked American apple pie that is served on a white porcelain dessert plate after a Holiday meal. I also imagine that there is a plethora of individuals who are understandably naïve to the history, culture, availability, and creation of moonshine who would be eager to experience this distinct and tasteful rendition of the customary American apple pie. I was once a member of the untapped market of apple pie lovers, who are deprived of tasting a slice of this rare execution of this American symbol. My expectations of tasting apple pie during the Ohio University tailgate were far surpassed, and I encourage all readers to pursue an effort to become equally familiar with apple pie Moonshine as I now am.