September in New England is here, bringing cool nights, turning the tips of trees red, sending kids back to school, and ripening the first apples. These four local bakeries greet apple season head on, building pie after flaky pie with crisp apples and buttery crusts, all from scratch, and all in their own ways.
While all bakers and pie eaters have their own preferences, a typical apple pie involves a tart apple that’ll hold its shape in the oven, a handmade crust, and a little sugar and lemon juice. Some bakers prefer Granny Smiths, some Honeycrisps or Baldwins, and some, a combination—but more on that below.
This year’s apple crop might look a little different from most years’, say some bakers, since February’s arctic blast and the late-season frosts may have harmed apple trees’ yield. But apples are almost always a given here on the North Shore, with dozens of apple farms dotting the region.
One thing these local bakers all agree on? Preorders. If you want to snag an apple pie to take home, especially for Thanksgiving, the ultimate apple pie holiday, “definitely preorder so we know how many to make,” says Susanne Clermont, co-owner of Sandpiper Bakery in Ipswich.
Buttermilk Baking Co., Newburyport
Ashley Bush, owner of Buttermilk Baking Co. in Newburyport, loves the Granny Smith, citing its ability to stay firm at high temps, for her larger-than-life apple pies, which are “kind of enormous,” Bush laughs. And she’s not wrong—these showstoppers can be almost triple the height of a typical apple pie. But besides their size, “it’s very much a classic apple pie,” says Bush, with an all-butter crust and hand-peeled apples.
If the apple pies are daunting for you, the Buttermilk bakers also make an apple hand pie (like an individual galette) daily, and sometimes in the fall they’ll do six-inch apple pies “for two.” Around Thanksgiving, when they’re cranking out apple pie after giant apple pie, some of them come out a little wonky—lopsided or slightly burnt. They’ll then sell these “personality pies” for half off. Other fan-favorite pies they whip up in the fall include pumpkin, chocolate mousse, and, surprisingly, key lime.
Sandpiper Bakery, Ipswich
At the start of apple season, usually around mid-September, the team at Sandpiper heads to Russell Orchards and gets one of each apple varietal for a taste test—and they’ll use their favorite apples from the orchard for their scratch-made apple pies. “We try to get our apples as local as possible,” says Clermont, noting that they use three varietals in each pie. They’ll look for “one that breaks down well, one that holds its shape, and one that adds great flavor,” explains Molly Friedman, the bakery’s other co-owner.
Each owner brings her own flair to the bakery’s pie recipe. Friedman makes sure the pies are piled high, while Clermont was inspired by Chez Panisse’s Lindsey Shere. “Her pie process is so simple, and it’s such a celebration of the fruit,” Clermont says. They use local butter from Cabot, too—Clermont attributes Sandpiper’s excellent quality to their focus on locally made ingredients and a small-scale, thoughtful process.
“I’ve been a pastry chef for a long time, and pie is my number one favorite thing to make,” says Lauren Moran, chef and owner at Honeycomb in Hamilton. Moran starts offering apple pies as soon as good baking apples come in, by late September. She likes to use half Granny Smith apples, which bakers often consider the golden standard of baking apples for their tart crispness, and half of whatever is good and sweet locally that year, like Honeycrisp.
Her pies start with a buttery pâte brisée crust, seven or eight apples’ worth of sweet, macerated apple slices, and a lattice top. Around Thanksgiving they’ll offer some pies with the option of a streusel crust, “so it just depends on if you like it a little sweeter or a little more traditional,” says Moran. Honeycomb will offer other apple pastries throughout the fall, too, like an apple crumb cake or gluten-free apple cinnamon muffins.
Russell Orchards, Ipswich
While Russell Orchards in Ipswich sells fresh apple pies all year round, they assemble them all in the fall, during peak apple season. “We can keep them in a deep freezer situation and bake them as needed,” says Miranda Russell, who co-owns the orchard with her husband, Doug. But they’ll start making new pies in early September, right as the first good apples start rolling in. They tend to rotate which varietals they put in their pies depending on what tastes best throughout the season—which means Gravenstein at first, Cortland in the middle of the season, and Baldwin toward the end.
You can almost always find whole, freshly baked pies at their farm store, along with uncooked pies so you can bake them at home. Russell says they’ve used the same pie recipe for the last forty years. “It’s sort of a real down-home type of recipe, there’s nothing real fancy about it,” she says. “They’re meant to look like something your grandma would’ve baked.” On weekends in November, leading up to Thanksgiving, they even set up a make-your-own apple pie station, complete with ingredients and guidance for novice piemakers.