Journeying Beyond the Ashes

explorations in living more consciously, sustainably and responsibly but most of all intentionally

The Hunt for the Great Northern Spy (Apple Pie)

Our hunt to locate the elusive Northern Spy was quite an adventure.  I found a listing online indicating it could be found close to home but it had already fled to a Maryland winery.  While in Cooperstown we heard whispers of Northern Spys located nearby and again were thwarted by weather that had sent it packing.  Yet on our road trip home we decided to make one more last ditch effort and finally success was had!

I am of course, referring to the heirloom apple variety, Northern Spy.  Heard of them?  I hadn’t until one of our many exploits in Ana’s kitchen.  Maybe it was when we made apple cider?  Or applesauce?  Either way Ana was reminiscing about this apple she remembered cooking with when she was growing up; it was called Northern Spy and apparently it was the best baking apple ever.  She had been hunting them for a while with no luck, so Bones and I set out to find them.  I found this awesome site,, which is an awesome resource for apple lovers.  It not only tells you about each variety, what it’s best for and such, but they also tell you what orchards grow them!


I found an orchard very close to home that grew them,so we packed in the car and headed out.  However, as I said a Maryland winery had got there first.  Due to the early heat wave this year and late frost many orchards lost most if not all of their crop, especially farther north.  So when the winery could not use it usual heirloom apple source, they called our local orchard and bought every last heirloom apple they had grown!  A few other attempts also were dead ends, but we were persistent.  The day we were leaving Cooperstown I discovered we would be passing right by an orchard that supposedly had Northern Spy apples!  So we stopped, we looked and didn’t see them and I about gave up right then and there.  But Bones turned around and there they were (I swear they sparkled). Without a second thought, I grabbed a bag for Ana and one for us (I wasn’t going to miss out after that hunt!).

Ana may very well be right, it is one of the – if not the – best cooking apple I have ever found.  Sweet but also tart with a good texture that really lends itself to baking without the need for extra liquid but also doesn’t get too juicy.  Ana made delicious pies with the apples and graciously taught me how to make her pie crust.  I took the crust along to the bachelorette weekend and made our own Northern Spy Apple Pie there.  It was delicious and quickly demolished. Here’s what I did, enjoy!

Northern Spy Apple Pie

  • 6 Northern Spy Apples (they tend to be on the larger side)
  • 1/4 C sugar
  • 1/2 T lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp Vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp Cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp Ginger
  • a dash of nutmeg
  • a double pie crust

1. Preheat your oven to 35oF. Peel core and slice the apples, sprinkle them with the lemon juice as you cut them to prevent them from turning brown.

2. Mix the remaining ingredients with the apples – I know it seems like so little sugar and spices but it was really enough. It allows you to truly enjoy the flavor and natural sweetness of the apples themselves.

3. Setup the lower pie crust and fill it with the apples, it will be a mound that makes you worry it will overflow but it’ll be ok. Place the top crust on top, seal the edges, and cut some vent holes. Have fun with it!  Ana went the Spy vs Spy route and as I was at a bachelorette weekend I carved “Bride” and a tiara.

Not as pretty as Ana’s but it got the job done.

4. Place in the oven and bake for about 50 minutes until golden brown on top.  Enjoy!

Yummy goodness and the house doesn’t smell half bad either!

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5 thoughts on “The Hunt for the Great Northern Spy (Apple Pie)

  1. Hi, Deb,

    Came from Anais’ Live Journal which linked to this post, which brings some things I love together: heirloom fruits, friends, and cooking!
    That pie looks great.

  2. I love making apple pies so I’m going to have to find this Northern Spy for next year. I typically use Granny Smith, but like shaking things up.

  3. Jennifer on said:

    We have northern spy in Hartland Michigan at Spicer’ s orchard.they ARE the best pie making Apple’s!

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