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How Do You Like Them Apples?

The Art of Apple Pie

Nothing says autumn in Western New York quite like the crunch of a locally grown apple. Sweet, tart, juicy, crisp, and crunchy—who can blame Eve for her inability to resist the apple?

New York State may not be able to produce the exotic fruits grown in those warm, faraway places but boy, do we know our apples!

The Empire State is dotted with countless orchards, ranging from the tip of Long Island up to Clinton County and all the way over to Erie County.

The variety of apples available for picking in New York has grown to more than two dozen. Acey Mac to Zestar, the fall is prime time for apples. The health benefits of apples are legendary. High in fiber and fat-free, the complex carbohydrates in apples supply an all-day energy boost like no other.

No wonder they help keep that pesky doctor away.

Apple picking also provides its own health benefits. Exercise and good old-fashioned fresh air do the body good. And there is no shortage of apple farms to pick from.

One of the largest and most well known orchards is located at Becker Farms ( in Gasport, New York. An hour’s drive from the city, the century-old farm offers 340 acres of fun. In addition to apple picking, the corn mazes, hayrides, and annual Pumpkin Fiesta will keep the kids busy.

Murphy Orchards ( in Burt, New York, and Brant Apple farm ( in Brant, New York, are just two more out of dozens of farms that offer similar fun fall activities.

Once all those apples have reached their resting place in the bushel, the work has just begun for Betty Cech, a grandmother from Tonawanda, and David Simpson, owner of Dolci Bakery.

It’s the great apple pie debate: Grandma’s homemade pie pitted against one of Buffalo’s finest bakeries.

A visit to the Formica-covered kitchen table of fabled pie baker Betty Cech yields a recipe more than half-century old. A grandmother and great-grandmother many times over, Cech has been baking pies for as long as she can remember. She only uses one recipe and she won’t part with it.

From a tattered Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book circa 1950, she pulls out a faded yellow, coffee-ring-stained recipe. It takes up less than half of a page and seems too simple to be true.

Andrew Nuernberger

The Roycroft Inn

40 South Grover Street, East Aurora

“My favorite season ingredient to use is game such as venison, duck, and turkey. I try to buy local ingredients whenever possible, but we’re a big restaurant so we need a large quantity. We get a lot of our produce locally from a local farm outside of East Aurora on Bowen Road. We get greens, arugula, parsnips, potatoes, garlic, and tomatoes. The game is usually slow braised. One seasonal dish is rabbit legs served with dried fruit and truffle risotto. I also prepare poussin, which is young chicken, served with roasted honey butter. I also get that locally from Wendel’s Farm in Concord, New York.”

jill greenberg & cory perla

What’s the catch? Is it the crust? The apples?

Cech has been making pies so long she doesn’t even know.

She admits to choosing her apples based on what’s on sale but notes that Macintosh and Granny Smith are her favorites.

“I use two kinds of apples in the pie,” she says. “I don’t even know why. It’s just the way I’ve always done it.”

Peeling the apples is her least favorite part of the process, and although she has a tabletop apple-peeling machine, she uses her tried and true, and somewhat rusty, apple peeler.

She does have one little secret to share when it comes to making the perfect homemade pie: She adds some extra flour.

“I add a little flour into the apple mixture because the apples are sometimes too juicy and the pie just won’t set right,” she says.

Moving from the somewhat cramped kitchen of Betty Cech to the almost equally close-quartered kitchen of Dolci bakery (732 Elmwood Avenue), the recipe morphs into a modern version of the apple pie.

Simpson, owner of Dolci, has been cranking out his apple creations for a mere four and a half years. He certainly doesn’t have Cech’s experience, but he’s got talent.

Dolci produces two apple desserts on a regular basis, the apple caramel tart and the apple crostata. The apple crostata is a closer match to the traditional apple pie.

Simpson agrees that Granny Smith is the preferred baking apple and he also admits that his recipe uses ingredients and ratios relatively similar to Cech’s recipe.

His secret lies in the dough—frolla dough, to be precise. Also known as a short pastry (or shortbread) crust, frolla dough is distinctly Italian in origin and differs from the standard homemade pie crust.

“It is a really buttery dough, not flaky like a tart dough,” Simpson says.

Simpson also throws in a slew of spices that Cech leaves out. They both use cinnamon but Dolci adds clove, ginger, and nutmeg to spice thing up.

When the apples are all boiled down, both desserts are winners. It all comes down to taste.

Dolci’s delights are for sale year-round. You can’t buy Cech’s pies, but she might bake you one if you stop by and help her fix a few things around the house.

For more information on orchards and apple picking, visit

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