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There's nothing better than an apple straight from the refrigerator good and cold. You can tell just by cutting into it if it's going to be good. Even the sharpest of knives requires a little pressure when cutting through its flesh. You can feel the difference. The perfect apple is hard, and the flavor is sweet with an edge of tartness. This is autumn season at its best.

Mommas always say an apple a day is good for you, and heeding that advice, I eat an apple for lunch six days out of seven. There's nothing more simple and nutritious with a couple of tablespoons of peanut butter to slather on each slice. It's a lunch of protein, fiber, potassium, antioxidants, flavonoids, the list goes on.

Somehow, though, it's not apple season without an apple pie. But apple pies get a little humdrum. How many different ways can you make them? You might be surprised. For starters, you can slice the apples thick or thin; shred them; chop them or dice them. Pile them in a traditional crust, a graham cracker crust or make one with peanut butter cookies. Drizzle the pie with caramel topping; top it with cinnamon crumbles, toasted walnuts or serve it a la mode. I like to do a combination of several.

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Anne Braly

This pie has it all — a delicious flaky crust — preferably made from scratch; a crunchy layer of nuts and brown sugar; and tender, sweet apples. You can keep things simple and make a two-crust pie, or add a touch of elegance with a lattice top. But there's one thing that this pie cannot go without: a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.

Wondering what kind of apples to buy? Your market most likely has several, but the best, according to an old pamphlet put together by my dear, departed friend Marilyn Geraldson at the University of Tennessee Extension, are Gala, Macintosh, Cortland, Jonathan, Winesap and Granny Smith.

When shopping for your ingredients, here's a suggestion: Visit your nearby Little Debbie Thrift Store, where you can often find a large bag of chopped walnuts for under $10. (Tennessee locations are at 9515 McKee Road in Collegedale and 5741 Highway 153 in Hixson). Keep the walnuts in your freezer, and you'll have enough to make a dozen pies between now and the end of apple season.

Nutty Apple Pie

Pastry for a two-crust pie

Nut layer:

3/4 cup very finely chopped walnuts or pecans

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 medium egg, lightly beaten (about 2 tablespoons)

1 tablespoon butter, melted

1 tablespoon evaporated milk

1/4 teaspoon lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Filling:

8 cups very thinly sliced, peeled tart apples (4-5 medium)

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup sugar

3 tablespoons flour

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)

1/8 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons butter, cubed

Topping:

1 teaspoon evaporated or whole milk

2-3 teaspoons sugar

Finish:

Vanilla ice cream

Heat oven to 375 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll one half of pastry dough to a 1/8-inch-thick circle; transfer to a 9-inch, deep-dish pie pan. Trim pastry even with rim.

In a small bowl, mix nut-layer ingredients until blended. Spread onto bottom of pastry shell. Refrigerate while preparing filling.

For filling, in a large bowl, toss apples with lemon juice and vanilla extract. In a small bowl, mix sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt; add to apple mixture and toss to coat. Pour filling over walnut layer; dot with butter. Roll remaining pastry dough to a 1/8-inch-thick circle and place on top. Crimp and seal edges. Alternately, cut into top pastry into strips and place one layer of strips over filling, then weave additional strips in between, creating a lattice top. Trim and seal edges. Brush top crust with milk; sprinkle with sugar.

Place pie on a baking sheet. Bake 55-70 minutes or until crust is golden brown, apples are tender and filling is bubbly. Cover top loosely with foil during the last few minutes, if needed, to prevent overbrowning. Remove foil. Cool on a wire rack, and serve warm with a scoop of ice cream on top.

Contact Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.

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