Sour Cream Apple Pie

A few years ago, my mom wanted to make this sour cream apple pie she remembered my Aunt Barbara making. Aunt B gave me the recipe, with a note saying, “I didn’t make this up. Origins unknown – think it might be a Joan Spector recipe.” My mom then found a recipe for a similar pie that was labeled Reading Market. She tweaked Aunt B’s recipe and sent me the changes. Then Joe and I tweaked it some more, and now we make this crazy-good apple pie that people go nuts for.

I’m sharing this recipe – and our method – with you. Because, you know, it’s Thanksgiving and all.

It all starts with the apples. It is, after all, an apple pie.

The first time Joe and I went to make this, I remembered my mom’s trick for making the best unsweetened apple sauce ever: use as many different varieties of apples you possibly can. I applied that same logic when shopping for apples for this pie. The recipe calls for six, so make sure you get six different kinds.

Apples for Pie

This year we used (clockwise from top) Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, Fuji, Red Delicious, Gala, and Golden Delicious (center). I may have mixed up Fuji and Gala but they were both in the mix.

The second big change we made was to use our mandolin to slice the apples really thin. We set ours to 2, which comes out to about 1/16 of an inch in thickness. To prep the apples, I peel and Joe slices. As we go, we sprinkle the apple slices with fresh lemon juice.

Apple Slices for Pie

After the apples are all sliced up, you toss them with a sour cream mixture that includes flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt, an egg, and some vanilla. It’s REALLY tasty. You can fold them in with a spoon or spatula, but this is one time when I agree with Honey Boo Boo and say that sometimes your hands are your best tools. (Don’t worry, they were freshly washed.)

Tossing Apples

So here’s my other big secret: I don’t make my own crust. I’ve tried – seriously, I have TRIED – but I always, always botch it. So now I don’t even try anymore. I just buy the store-bought kind. Besides, I think it tastes better than most homemade anyway. P.S. I don’t even bother to get Pillsbury anymore. I buy the ShopRite brand.

Once you have your crust nestled into your deep dish pie pan, you pour in your sour creamed apple slices. You may need to use your hands again to make sure the slices get into every corner of the crust. It’s messy work, but totally worth it.


You bake the pie at a couple of different temperatures. Then, after 45 minutes, you add the crumb topping, which is made with flour, white sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter. I dice the cold butter and mix it in with my fingertips until crumb-like.

Add some sliced almonds, bake for another 20 minutes, and there you have it: the best apple pie you’ll ever make (or eat!).

The best apple pie you'll ever make or eat

The full recipe is below. And because I’m not an actual food blogger, I don’t have some neat recipe widget that gives you a pretty printable copy. So, I made a Word doc for those of you who want to print it out: Sour Cream Apple Pie

Aunt Barbara’s Sour Cream Apple Pie
Adapted by Nancy; adapted again by Lara & Joe


For the pie:
Unbaked 9” pie crust
6 apples (one each of six varieties), pared, cored, and sliced
1 lemon, juiced
2 tablespoons flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (you can use less if you have strong vanilla)
1 cup sour cream

For the crumb topping:
1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup salted butter (1/2 stick)
* If using unsalted butter, add 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 cup sliced almonds (optional)


Preheat oven to 425. Take your store-bought out of the fridge to bring to room temp.

Peel your apples. Cut them in half and remove the core with a melon baller. Then make them into 1/16” slices using a mandolin. You can make this recipe just by slicing your apples by hand, but trust me—thinner slices is better. As you go, sprinkle slices with some of the fresh lemon juice.

Sift together flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in the egg, vanilla, and sour cream. Fold apples into this mixture.

Arrange your store-bought crust in deep-dish pie pan, hand-crimping the top edge. Spoon sour cream/apple mixture into the shell.

Bake 15 minutes at 425, then reduce to 325 and cook for 30 minutes. You may want to put a cookie sheet on a lower shelf to catch any spill-overs.

Combine all of the topping ingredients in a bowl with fingertips until crumbly. After the 30 minutes are up, sprinkle the crumb mixture over the top of the pie. Then add 1/4 cup of sliced almonds.

Bake at 350 for 20 more minutes. The crumb topping will melt a little around the edges but look dry elsewhere. That’s okay. This is how it’s supposed to look.

Let cool before serving, then enjoy!

How I became a Delicious Dish.

Last winter, I got a phone call from Mary-lou, a woman in my mother’s cooking club, inviting me to their next gathering. They were having a dinner in my mom’s honor, she said, and they wanted me to come so they could “cluck” over me.

My mom had been a member of Delicious Dishes, as the women named themselves, for the better part of a decade, and I’d always envied her participation. The last Thursday of each month, the six (sometimes five, sometimes seven) Dishes would gather to cook a multi-course menu together. They took turns hosting, and each host was responsible for selecting that month’s menu. Each member kicked in money toward groceries, usually $12 to $20 per person.

When it was my mother’s turn to host, she – in typical Nancy fashion – would spend weeks planning her menu. Often she’d bounce ideas off of me, and I’d help her find the perfect recipes for whatever theme she’d decided upon. She had a taste for the elaborate; the first time she hosted, her ambitious menu included oyster bisque, beef tenderloin stuffed with lobster, baked stuffed oranges, asparagus soufflé, apricot tart and Earl Grey ice cream. (The Dishes still crack jokes about this, in part because they didn’t sit down to eat until almost midnight that night.)

Dishes College

In addition to my mother and Mary-lou, the group consisted of Mom’s best friend Amy (who’s been like a second mom to me for years); Evelyn; Jenny; Jeanne; and sometimes Beverly. I’d always thought my mom was a founding member, because I have vivid memories of how and when they voted to call themselves the Delicious Dishes, but it turns out she joined several months into the group’s existence. She loved being a Dish, and I looked forward to hearing her recaps after each month’s get-together.

The truth is, I’d wanted to be a Dish for a long, long time. It just sounded like so much fun. I’d definitely inherited my mom’s love of cooking (and eating), and on more than one occasion I’d casually mentioned the idea of forming our own supper club to some of my friends who also liked to cook. (No one ever bit.)

So when Mary-lou asked me to join them for dinner last February, I was not only touched, I was excited.

Mary-lou picked a vegetarian menu for the evening. I thought it was funny because my mom was so far from a vegetarian. We made borscht, a winter casserole with herb dumplings, braised fennel with tomatoes, and a pear and hazelnut flan for dessert. It’s customary for most Dishes to sip wine while we cooked, and catch up on each other’s lives. I got a lot of questions that first night – about how I was doing, how my stepfather was doing, how Mom’s dogs were doing – but I also got to hang back and listen to the banter. There was a whole twenty-minute stretch of them comparing pre- and post-menopausal symptoms, and through it all I couldn’t stop smiling.

These were my mother’s friends. Her girls. They didn’t just cook together, they laughed together. They listened to one another. They supported each other. When Joe and I decided to throw a wedding together in 33 days, Amy talked me through details I wouldn’t have even thought of. Evelyn came and helped out in the kitchen at the reception. When mom passed away, several of the Dishes provided dessert items for funeral guests. My favorite was Jeanne’s moist chocolate chip bundt cake – which I later found out her daughter called “The Death Cake” because Jeanne only seems to make it for funerals. (We had a good laugh over this. It was REALLY good cake!)

The Dishes talked a lot about my mom that night, sharing stories about outrageous things she’d said or done. Stories that made them cry, not from sadness but from laughter.

It was more than nice.

At the end of the dinner – which truly was delicious, and which my mother would’ve loved despite the lack of animal protein involved – Mary-lou presented me with a three-ring binder full of menus my mom had planned during her time as a Dish. Tucked into the back was a sheet of paper that read “If you would like some motherly advice…” and included all of the Dishes’ contact info. My eyes filled with tears. Everything about that night was exactly what I needed, at exactly the moment I needed it most.

I was invited back to the Dishes the following month. In April, there was no dinner, because Amy was up for a volunteering award (which she won, yay!), the banquet for which fell on the last Thursday of that month. I was invited back again in May, opted out of June (because I’d just gotten back from vacation and was scrambling to get ready for a work trip), returned in July, and have attended every one since.

Delicious Dishes

The Dishes, from left to right: me, Jeanne, Mary-lou, Jenny, Evelyn, Amy

Around May, the Dishes voted to make me a permanent member, instead of a monthly guest. And last Thursday, just three days before my mom’s birthday, I hosted my first Delicious Dishes dinner.

I could’ve done a Halloween menu. Or, I could’ve gone with my first idea, which was to build a menu of copycat restaurant recipes. But at some point, I decided I’d do my own tribute dinner to my mom.

After she passed, my stepfather gave me huge cardboard boxes filled with large envelopes stuffed with recipes. My mother’s recipes. Some were in her own handwriting. Some were printouts photocopies with handwritten notes on them. Some were from her mother, my Nana, and some from my gram on my dad’s side. There were a bajillion columns from Nancy Coale Zippe, longtime food columnist for the News Journal, as well as clippings from PA newspapers stretching back to years before I was born – many from around the time she and my dad got married.

I couldn’t go through the boxes right away, but started to a few weeks after Mom had passed. I pulled out all of the handwritten ones and squirreled them away in an archival safe box. The rest I just marveled at. When I say there are tens of thousands of recipes, it’s no exaggeration. Then I stuffed them into a closet, because I couldn’t bear to part with a single one.

A few weeks back, I started combing through those recipes again. I was determined to create my menu solely from recipes my mom had picked out once upon a time. It was no easy feat, either; nearly 50% of them were recipes for desserts. I found maybe half a dozen salad recipes total, and not many more soups. Finding five recipes that fit the season (not to mention each other!) took me right up until two nights before, when I settled on hot sausage balls (something I remember my mom making a lot growing up), spiced pecans, corn soup with roasted poblano peppers, Texas chili served over spoon bread, and pumpkin custards. The oldest recipe came from 1973; the newest from 1993.

At Trader Joe’s, I picked up a gorgeous fall bouquet with three sunflowers in it. Sunflowers – my mother’s favorite. Her kitchen was in a sunflower motif. She never met a sunflower she didn’t like. Amy arranged the bouquet into a lovely centerpiece. It was like my mom was there with us.

One of the best parts of being a host is that you get to invite your spouse to dine with the Dishes. So they got to meet Joe. They teased us about being “newlyweds,” and cooed over how cute Joe and I were. (It’s true. We’re pretty freaking adorable.) They also cooed over Scout and how cute he is, too.

I’m so grateful to the Dishes, for who they were to my mom and who they now are to me. And I felt so lucky to be able to share that night with them, and to honor my mom’s memory in that way.

I knew she’d approve.

Food Collage