We Tried Custard Apple Pie—the Thanksgiving Dessert New England Loves

The custard apple pie known as Marlborough Pie is a beloved, long time favorite New England dessert. Combining creamy custard and apples with a hint of lemon makes this dessert a unique spin on the traditional apple pie.

After a recent visit to Vermont, where among many fun activities I took a New England desserts baking class, I was surprised to discover just how many obscure but delicious New England desserts there were! One of the most unique recipes I discovered, which dated all the way back to 1660, was for a custard apple pie called Marlborough Pie. The pie is infused with shredded apples and the subtle tang of citrus, thanks to fresh lemon juice. I decided to give it a try and see if this pie I’d never heard of was good enough to add to the Thanksgiving menu. Read on to see the results (and check out our best New England recipes, too)!

How to Make Marlborough Pie

Ingredients

  • Your favorite pie crust recipe—this is our standard (and favorite)
  • 2 large firm, tart apples (about 1 pound total), such as Granny Smith or Northern Spy, peeled and cored
  • 2 large firm, sweet apples (about 1 pound total), such as Pink Lady, peeled and cored
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons dry sherry or apple cider
  • 2 tablespoons salted butter
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup light cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt

Initial Thoughts

I have to admit I was a little hesitant about this pie altogether! There is nothing more traditional and classic than a New England apple pie, especially when it has a nice spice to it, but my curiosity definitely won me over. I was initially skeptical of how combining apples with custard could be an improvement on a classic apple pie, but I just had to see how it’d turn out.

Also, I thought sherry was an unusual addition. I didn’t have any on hand, so I opted for apple cider—a common substitute. Didn’t seem worth it to buy a whole bottle for one pie, though I bet it would add some great warmth (but who doesn’t love apple cider?).

Despite my hesitations, I soldiered on. Without ruining the ending, let’s just say that I’m glad I proceeded.

Starting with the Crust

While some folks make their pie crusts by hand using a pastry blender or fork, I decided to mix up my pie pastry with a food processor. This makes the process so simple. Just pulse together your flour, chilled butter (yes, butter is best!) and salt. Then slowly add your water until the dough comes together.

You can prep your dough ahead of time—even a few days if you’d like. I made mine first thing in the morning and let it chill for a few hours as I got the kids up and ready. Then I rolled it out onto a well-floured surface and laid it into a nine-inch pie pan. I blind baked this for 13 minutes in a 400ºF oven.

While the crust got its initial bake, I put together the filling, which again, thanks to the food processor, came together fairly quickly.

Prepping the Apples

shredded apples in a food processorAndrea Howe / Taste of Home

If you want to go the traditional route, you can shred your apples by hand using a box grater. If you want to save some time and elbow grease, use a food processor fitted with it’s shredding plate. Just pop your quartered apples into the processor and let the machine do the work! Let me tell you, this was a lifesaver—the apples shredded in less than half the time.

Don’t have a food processor? Check out our Test Kitchen’s recommendations.

Assembling and Baking the Pie

With your apples shredded, cook them with the cider (or sherry), sugar and butter on the stove until tender. This won’t take long since the applies are shredded—just a few minutes.

While those are cooking, blend together your eggs, cream and spices. Then stir in your apples. This is such a quick an easy filling that reminded me what I enjoy most about old-fashioned New England recipes: their simplicity.

Once that mix is together, pour it into your pie crust and bake at 350ºF for about 35 minutes until the custard is set but now brown. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool before you taste.

The Result

Baked Marlborough Pie in a glass pie plate next to pie knife and stack of plates and forks on white backgroundAndrea Howe / Taste of Home

Wow, this may end up being the most unique dessert I’ve made yet! I’m so glad I didn’t allow my initial hesitations prevent me from attempting this wonderfully delicious pie. The tartness of the apples, heightened by the lemon juice and apple cider, was the perfect balance to the sweet and creamy custard. And the heartier crust, still light and flaky in texture, stood up exceptionally well to the custard, resisting sogginess. I definitely think this pie is worthy of making it on the Thanksgiving menu, and will be an exciting change of pace from our traditional pumpkin and apple pies we usually make every year.

I had so much fun researching and making this old-time New England dessert, it made me look into other time-tested food traditions, including the stories behind the most classic Thanksgiving foods. Which ones will you be adding to your Thanksgiving menu this year?

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