In search of English Apple Pie

I have a friend who does wonders with my garden. Ron is an older English gentleman who retired so that he could pursue his passion for gardening. I’m not an gardener myself and I happily delegate everything to him. It’s the end of the fall season here and he was putting the garden to bed for the winter.

“I guess this is the last time I’ll see you this year,” I said.

“I’ll be back one more time,” he said. “I cut back the cherry tree and need to take it to the curb. Next year you’ll probably want to do something about those cedars?”

“Sure, whatever you think,” I said. “Before you go, I’d like to bake you a Christmas treat. Is there anything traditional that you’d like? ”

“English apple pie with custard!” he said, with no hesitation and an instant gleam in his eye.

Inwardly I groaned. I’ve blogged before about my struggles with making pie.

“What’s different about English pie?” I asked.

“It’s made with a different type of apple which you can’t get here. A hard cooking apple, very tart. Of course, it’s the pastry that makes it special. It takes a lot of skill to make pastry. ” I nodded in agreement. “In England we have apple pie warm or cold with a nice custard sauce.”

My growing dismay must have shown.

“You don’t have to make the custard,” he added. “I can make that.”

“Pies are not my talent,” I said. “But I will try to make you a nice one!”

I am now on a quest to make English Apple Pie.

I’ve researched English Apple pies and according to Google, British pies use a variety of apples called Bramleys. Bramleys are hard and acidic and need to be cooked before eating. In Canada the closest approximation is the Granny Smith apple

According to YouTube, British pies are different in that they’re not as sweet or cinnamon laced as American pies. They taste predominantly of apples with a sweet and sour pop of flavor.

So far I’ve made two practice pies. I’m still working on perfecting the pastry but I’m getting there. The filling though, is a bit of mystery. It’s hard to approximate an English pie when I’ve never actually tasted one. How sour is sour? Is it lemony sour or rhubarby sour?

Do you know? I’d appreciate advice from anyone who’s ever tasted and compared British and American apple pie.

Toronto, Canada. November 2020


  1. Bramleys are unique in that they start off firm but very quickly soften when cooked. A Granny Smith will remain firm. How sweet? Mostly I keep tasting it, adding a little sugar at first then increasing to taste. I like mine very slightly tart. Everybody’s is different isn’t it? I use a sweet shortcrust pastry with a thin bottom layer, lots of filling and a slightly thicker crust on top. Personally I love cinnamon but hubby doesn’t (boo!) I also like my pie warm with ice cream, while he prefers custard!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting. Thanks for the comparison of the two apples. I find Granny Smiths to be a bit too tart for my liking. Personally I prefer Cortlands and I think a mix might be good compromise.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. it is so sweet of you to make a treat for your friend and trying so hard to make it perfect! I had this pie only once, I didn’t like it at all as I found it too much sour…I am not sure if that was the way those pies are supposed to taste like but I didn’t want to take any chances ahaha

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    1. I’ve been wondering if the custard sauce offsets the tartness of the pie.
      I know here, where our pies are sweet I can never add ice cream because the overwhelming sweetness is too much. I imagine though, with a tart apple filling, a sweet, mellow sauce would be nice.

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  3. The suggestion to look for recipes by Delia Smith or Mary Berry is a good one – they’re both very reliable and very English! I found this with a quick search: (disclaimer: I’ve never made this recipe!

    I would say our apple pies aren’t really sour, they just aren’t super sweet either. The main flavour should be apple 😆 And the apple pieces should hold their shape, not dissolve into a puree. Granny Smiths are a good choice as they’re firm and sharp, but you’ll need some sugar, just not too much.


    1. ‘Sour’ probably wasn’t a good choice of words, tart is more like it. Baking anything with lemon or rhubarb requires a lot of sugar. But I do find lemons a lot less tart than rhubarb.
      Thanks for the link Sarah. It’s on my list of comparison recipes.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. English apple pies are not sour because you put lots of sugar in them. Look out for recipes by Delia Smith or Mary Berry. Also, use bought puff pastry rather than shortcrust.


        1. Thanks Mike, I’m checking it out. Did you know that there’s an expression “As English as apple pie”? I didn’t. I always thought it was ‘As American as apple pie” I guess everyone likes dem apples.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I no longer have to think thanks to Google. “As English as apple pie: “Having characteristics considered quintessential to English or British life.” Blimey!


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