Food & Drink

A Sweet-and-Salty Apple Pie

The fillings steal the show in this salt pork apple pie from Four and Twenty Blackbirds

The new Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book, written by Emily and Melissa Elsen who run the Brooklyn pie shop of the same name, covers essential pie-making techniques that range from lattice-carving to shaping a crust from animal crackers.

But the fillings steal the show. The Elsen’s divide their pies by season, painting evocative portraits in pastry. Spring means rhubarb, apple-rose, and lemon-sour cream, and summer brings salted melon and paprika-peach. Come fall, the sisters explore richer flavors: salted caramel-apple, concord grape, black walnut, and brown butter-pumpkin. The winter chapter includes a custard pie based on the flavors of eggnog and a dark chocolate confection seasoned with spicy green chiles.

There, too, is the salt pork-apple pie that an early employee discovered in a vintage cookbook and refined to its current state. The Elsens may not be from the South, but they’d be welcome at any bake sale in Dixie with this sweet-and-salty treat.


    • 9-Inch Pie Crust (Link in Recipe)

    • 6-7 baking apples (about 2 1/2 lbs. fresh)

    • 3 tbsp. apple cider vinegar

    • 2 tbsp. granulated sugar

    • 1 cup maple sugar (or 3/4 cup granulated sugar plus 3 tbsp. maple syrup)

    • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

    • 1/4 tsp. allspice

    • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt

    • Dash Angostura bitters

    • 3 tbsp. all-purpose flour

    • 1/4 – 1/2 lb. salt pork, depending on fat content

    • Demerara sugar, to finish

    • Egg wash (1 large egg whisked with 1 tsp. water and a pinch of salt)


  1. First, prepare a pie crust and a pastry round or lattice top.

  2. Core, peel, and thinly slice the apples with a sharp knife or on a mandolin. Sprinkle them with apple cider vinegar and granulated sugar and set aside to soften slightly and release some juices, 20-30 minutes.

  3. In a medium bowl, combine the maple sugar, cinnamon, allspice, kosher salt, and bitters. Mix well and stir in the flour.

  4. Slice the salt pork into ¼-inch pieces and cook in a skillet over medium heat to render the fat, 5-8 minutes. Strain fat through a fine-mesh sieve, reserving it, and allow both meat and fat to cool slightly.

  5. Drain any excess liquid from the sliced apples and discard. Toss the apples in the spice mixture until coated thoroughly, then add about 4 tbsp. of the rendered fat to the apple mixture.

  6. Arrange half the apples in the pie shell and top with half of the salt pork slices. Repeat for a second layer of apples and salt pork, then arrange the lattice or pastry round on top and crimp as desired. Chill the pie in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes to set the pastry. Meanwhile, position oven racks in the bottom and center positions, place a rimmed baking sheet on the bottom rack, and preheat the oven to 425°F.

  7. Brush the pastry with egg wash, sprinkle it with the desired amount of sugar, and place it on the lowest rack. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the pastry is set and beginning to brown. Then, lower the oven temperature to 375°F, move the pie to the center oven rack, and continue to bake until the pastry is a deep golden brown and the juices are bubbling, 35 to 40 minutes longer. Test the apples for doneness with a skewer or sharp knife. They should be tender and offer just the slightest resistance.

  8. Allow pie to cool completely on a wire rack, 2-3 hours, and serve slightly warm or at room temperature. The pie will keep refrigerated for 3 days or at room temperature for 2 days.

Recipe from THE FOUR AND TWENTY BLACK BIRDS PIE BOOK by Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen. Copyright © 2013 by Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen. Used with permission by Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.