Friday, October 24, 2014

The Jefferson Hotel Apple Cheddar Pie

When I left college in 1960 and went back to Arlington, Virginia, to live with my parents, my father gently prodded me to go out an get a job. The very next Monday he put the Help Wanted—Women section of the Washington Post in front of me at breakfast with a number of likely prospects circled, one of which was a job as a clerk in the library of the Post itself. (Yes, it was Help Wanted—Women. In the old days it was okay to blatantly discriminate.) Then he drove me into town—that is, Washington—and dropped me in front of the Post.

I was wearing a white blouse of my sister's, a straight black skirt (what they call nowadays a pencil skirt, though on an actual woman such a skirt bears no resemblance to a pencil), flesh-colored stockings (panty hose hadn't been invented yet), and plain black pumps. I mention this because my normal clothes were way more bohemian, tending toward black stockings, turtle neck sweaters, and those boho shoes from Greenwich Village whose brand name I can almost remember. Anyway, in the prissy clerk getup I successfully passed muster in the personnel office of the Washington Post. They gave me a stack of cards to alphabetize. When I had done this they sent me up to see Jack Burness, the boss of the library. In my sister's white blouse I impressed him as being sober and industrious, and he hired me. First full-time job I ever applied for. That I was hired was a fantastic piece of luck. I was too young and silly to appreciate it.

You're wondering what all this has to do with the pie.

The reason the Post needed a new clerk was that one of the old ones was leaving, Mr. Burness's second in command, an affable red-headed man by the name of Mark Hannan. He was so highly regarded that the library staff was taking him to a farewell luncheon at the Jefferson Hotel around the corner. I got to go, too. I was too cool to be impressed by the luxury of the surroundings at the Jefferson, and I can't remember what was for lunch, but for dessert they served a lattice-crust apple pie with cheddar cheese dribbled over it that lives on in my memory to this very day. From time to time over the years I've tried to replicate that pie, thinking, perhaps, that it would bring back a bit of my youth and innocence. Today I'm trying it again. There are hints on the internet of how to make an apple pie with cheese.

My dining room will not resemble the one in the wine cellar of the Jefferson Hotel.

I will come back and update this post as progress is made.

Kate Gallison

5:30 P.M.: The pie is in the oven. I took a picture of the apples before I started, and then a picture of the crust recipe I was going to use, from Fanny Farmer's Boston Cooking School Cookbook, the edition my first husband's sister gave us for a wedding present fifty years or so ago. Using this recipe and a lot of experience in handling pie dough I got to be quite a good piecrust cook. Half butter and half lard makes the tenderest and flakiest crust, as long as you use ice water and handle it as little as possible.

Now that I have a food processor I find it much more convenient than messing around with two knives. Again, you develop your eye to know when the dough is mixed enough. Boy, howdy! Look here! Fanny has a recipe for cheese crust. Just the thing.

The apple filling is from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything.

I would have taken a picture of the rest of the process, but the camera's batteries went dead. Now that I've replaced them I'll take a picture of the pie when it comes out of the oven. It occurred to me that strewing grated cheddar all over the top of the lattice ten minutes before the pie was done would let the crust get brown and crispy without burning the cheese.

Hey, here it is! It's done! Now to wait until the guests arrive, when I'll reminisce about the Jefferson Hotel, and about the Washington Post in the days when Alfred Friendly was running the newsroom and Phil Graham was still alive. Ben Bradlee's obituaries this week brought back a lot of memories for me, though he wasn't there when I was. Pie is a good way to express nostalgia, don't you think?


  1. Can't wait to hear how it turns out! 20 years ago my friend brought a cheddar-pear pie to Thanksgiving and we are all still talking about it. Googled some recipes to try, but haven't found the courage yet... Kelly Anderson

  2. I make a quite good apple cranberry pie (I make my own crust) with a crumb topping. I think that I'll add a new twist to my pie repertoire and instead of dropping in tart cranberries I'll jiggling in some coarsely shredded sharp cheddar. The more I think about it the more my mouth waters. Thanks!

  3. Have you thought about contacting the CEO of the Jefferson Hotel, using your writerly clout and getting the recipe through his slaves? tstraw

  4. Thelma, the chefs who baked that pie at the Jefferson in 1960 are dead and buried. Alas, I have little or no writerly clout even with the living.

  5. Oh, no, Kate, you are wrong. There are ways of sending a memo that would make the top folks at this elite hotel sit up and take notice. You have a strong resume in the writerly field... By the way, did you ever know Katherine Graham? I read her auto years ago and was very impressed by her...tjstraw, who is impressed by all you pro pie bakers... but, aha, wait til you read my blog on MY Superior Culinary Skills on Nov. 30.. Oh, boy... I can hear your all falling to the floor with envy...

  6. Yes, Thelma! I've seen it! My mouth waters even now. The closest I came to Greatness at the Post was the day I told Phil Graham's secretary to call the public library with a reference question, having no idea who he was. I never was any good at politics.

  7. I'm sure they got a real kick out of that and dined out on the story for ages! tstraw