Making a Boozy Pie for the Holidays

Barbara Swell makes heirloom pastry, and judging from her popular cooking classes, the “lost art” of pie making has been found. Photo by Matt Rose

Back in the 1990s, Barbara Swell’s husband Wayne Erbsen, a prolific Appalachian-music teacher and author, urged his wife to write her first cookbook. When she pointed out she was too busy raising their three small children and tending to her counseling practice, he announced he would write it. “Wayne has many talents,” says Barbara, “and he’s a very appreciative and hearty eater. But cooking is not his best gift.” So she wrote it herself.

Barbara’s culinary techniques came from her grandmother, Maudie, who grew her own food, “hung her laundry to dry in the sun,” and made everything from scratch. After she finished Log Cabin Cooking: Pioneer Recipes and Food Lore, Barbara authored ten more cookbooks. They’re published through Native Ground Books & Music, a company she and Wayne founded to foster appreciation for traditional mountain folkways.

The couple lives in an 1880s home in Haw Creek with an old Montgomery Ward kit log cabin next door, where Wayne teaches old-time music and Barbara offers cooking classes. “Pie-making is popular, she says, “but I also like to teach live-fire hearth cooking, as well as cooking with cast iron and how to cook on a woodstove.”

But first thing’s first. Here’s a treat specially crafted for surviving the holidays.

Photo by Matt Rose


Apple Pie with Boozy Fruit

5 cups sliced, peeled apples (mixture of tart and sweet)
1 sliced, peeled pear (equal to about a cup)
2 Tbsp. flour, corn starch or tapioca starch
1⁄2 cup dried fruit (cranberries, dried apples, or golden raisins, etc.) soaked in cider, Calvados (apple brandy), rum, bourbon, etc.

1. Sweeten your pie to taste. Taste after all other ingredients are combined before adding sugar. A few tablespoons of apple cider syrup (see below) may be all you need. If using sugar, keep it below 1⁄2 cup. Orange marmalade is a fun sweetener for apple pies.
2. Toss all ingredients together well and place in an unbaked 9-inch shallow pie plate.
3. Top with lattice crust.
4. Place in bottom third of a preheated 425-degree oven for 15 minutes, then turn oven down to 375 degrees and continue to bake until bubbly.


  • To bake pies: always bake in bottom third of electric oven or bottom shelf of gas oven to insure a crispy crust.
  • Sweeten with apple cider syrup to taste, along with a little brown or white sugar.
  • Apples shrink when cooked, so if you tuck them into a double-crusted pie, there will be a big gap between the fruit and the top pie crust. Which is fine, but if you don’t want that, use a lattice crust on top or a crumble topping. Or, you can pre-cook your apples just a minute to wilt them.

Apple Cider Syrup

Makes your apple pie taste more apple-y, it will change your life!
Divide one half gallon of good fresh cider into two pans (or cook down one pan at a time), and simmer for about, oh, 30 minutes until you have a little more than one cup syrup total. Be careful not to over-caramelize (burn) the syrup. Keep an eye on it at the end as it will thicken quickly (that’s why I recommend folks divide their wonderful fresh cider into two batches when cooking down). Use the syrup to sweeten pickles or pies or any old thing that includes apples. Freezes well in small jars for use all year long.

See or for a list of Barbara Swell’s cooking classes, including her week-long intensives at the John C. Campbell Folk School ( On Facebook: Native Ground Books & Music, Log Cabin Cooking. 828-299-7031.

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