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A Dictionary of Culinary Curiosities

Word Histories / Green Lentil Soup / Old-Fashioned Apple Pie

morton picture January 1997

The photograph of Mark Morton on the flap of his new Cupboard Love shows him with his face tilted up, eyes shut, holding above his wide-open mouth what looks very much like a frog. He's clearly an adventurer, having picked rocks and fed chickens and repaired farm machinery, according to his biography, before settling down as a teacher at the University of Winnipeg and broadcasting weekly columns on word histories for CBC radio.

I share The Atlantic's penchant for the origins of words and, in fact, don't consider a dinner at anyone's house complete unless someone has run to the dictionary to settle a dispute or just a point of curiosity. Cupboard Love (Bain & Cox) will solve dozens of what, in my family, often become heated arguments. Morton lays out the histories of hundreds of food-related terms as deftly and completely as any casual reader could wish.

Here are three: the roots of "recipe," "lentil" (one of those explanations that makes perfect sense the minute you hear it), and -- one of my favorite points of trivia -- the disputed origins of "apple-pie order." I reread this little story every time I see kitchen cabinets that are neater than mine, which is to say in just about any kitchen I visit.

Here, too, are two recipes just right for a January evening: a satisfying lentil soup from the food authority Barbara Kafka, whose books on microwave cooking have shown cooks that the appliance isn't just for reheating, and an apple pie from Susan Purdy, whose As Easy as Pie is one of those books I turn to for automatic reference. Cupboard Love will become one, too.

-- Corby Kummer

From Cupboard Love, by Mark Morton

Word Histories


When the word recipe appeared in English in the fifteenth century, it referred only to directions for making medicines; not for another three hundred years, in the early eighteenth century, did recipe also come to denote directions for preparing a dish of food. Before this modern sense of recipe was developed, instructions for making food were called receipts, a usage dating all the way back to the fourteenth century. The difference between calling such culinary instructions receipts or recipes is slight, at least in so far as both words derive from the same source, the Latin recipere, meaning to receive (the words are spelt differently because recipe developed from the present tense of recipere while receipt developed from a past tense); these two words became associated with cooking because when you make a dish you "receive" into your hand the various ingredients required by the dish.

Incidentally, the pharmaceutical symbol RX (sometimes represented by Rx) stands for recipe; the cross-bar represents the staff of Jove, the patron of doctors, under whose auspices the medical recipe was to be prepared.


If you have less than perfect eyesight, you probably have, at this very moment, two lentils perched on either side of your nose -- at least you do in so far as the English word for lens is a direct adoption of the Latin word lens, meaning lentil. Lens was adopted by seventeenth century opticians because the convex shape of the lentil resembled that of the pieces of glass they cut to make telescopes and microscopes. The Latin lens is also, of course, the source of the English word lentil: in Late Latin the name of the leguminous plant was turned into a diminutive -- lenticula, meaning little lentil -- which was subsequently adopted by French as lentille. English then adopted this French word in the mid thirteenth century, changing the spelling to lentil in the process.

Apple-pie order

A proper chef always keeps her kitchen in apple-pie order: spoons and forks do not fraternize wildly in the cutlery drawer, lids do not wander from their containers, salt shakers do not plummet into the crevice between oven and wall. Such a compulsion for culinary organization is known as apple-pie order, an idiom that may have grown out of how apple pies, in the good old days, were made by carefully arranging apple slices in a highly stylized, vertical pattern (which was then hidden under a crust of dough). Alternatively, the apple pie part of the idiom may have originated as an English corruption of the French phrase nappes plices, meaning folded linen, or as an English corruption of the French phrase cap-a-pie, meaning head to foot (Shakespeare uses this idiom when he has Horatio describe Hamlet's ghostly father as armed cap-a-pie): both French phrases -- nappes plices and cap-a-pie -- are suggestive of minute attention to detail. Whatever its origin, apple-pie order was first recorded in English in the late eighteenth century.

From Microwave Gourmet, by Barbara Kafka

Green Lentil Soup

Lentils make a wonderful, substantial soup. You can substitute other color lentils if they are easier to find. Serves 6 to 8

1 cup dried green lentils
2 stalks celery, trimmed, strung and cut into 2-inch lengths
1 leek, white part only, cut into 2-inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
2 medium carrots, trimmed, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
3 parsley sprigs
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups chicken broth or lamb broth
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Pinch freshly ground black pepper

1. Put lentils in a 2 1/2-quart soufflé dish with 4 cups water. Cover tightly with microwave plastic wrap. Cook at 100% for 35 minutes.

2. Remove from oven. Let stand, covered, for 20 minutes. Uncover and drain lentils; you will have about 2 1/2 cups. Set aside.

3. Place celery, leeks, garlic, carrots, and parsley in the workbowl of a food processor. Process until finely chopped.

4. Add vegetables to reserved lentils. Stir in oil, broth, salt, and pepper. Cover tightly with microwave plastic wrap. Cook at 100% for 15 minutes.

5. Remove from oven and uncover. Purée about half the soup in the food processor. Stir purée into remaining soup and serve.

From As Easy As Pie, by Susan G. Purdy

Old-Fashioned Apple Pie

This is IT! -- what our country and flag are as American as. Since the earliest colonial days, apple pies have been enjoyed in America for breakfast, for an entree, and for dessert. Colonists wrote home about them and foreign visitors noted apple pie as one of our first culinary specialties. According to the American Heritage Cookbook (Penguin Books, 1967) a Swedish parson named Dr. Acrelius wrote back to his family in 1758: "'Apple-pie is used through the whole year, and when fresh apples are no longer to be had, dried ones are used. It is the evening meal of children. House-pie, in country places, is made of apples neither peeled nor freed from their cores, and its crust is not broken if a wagon wheel goes over it.'" In 1851, a Norwegian immigrant living in Wisconsin wrote to friends back home, "'Strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries thrive here. From these they make a wonderful dish combined with syrup and sugar, which is called pai. I can tell you that is something that glides easily down your throat; they also make the same sort of pai out of apples . . . and that is really the most superb.'"

For pies, select apples that are firm and tart such as Greenings, Jonathans, Cortlands, or Granny Smiths. Eating apples such as Delicious or McIntosh soften too much when baked. Serve apple pie warm, topped with a slice of sharp cheddar cheese or a dollop of heavy cream.

Advance preparation: Apples may be sliced, seasoned as described below, and frozen in individual pie-sized packets in advance and pastry can be prepared ahead and frozen. Complete pies can also be frozen before or after baking.
Special equipment: 9-inch pie plate; rolling pin; pastry brush; aluminum foil strips or frame.
Baking time: 425°F for 15 minutes; 350°F for 40 to 45 minutes.
Quantity: One 9-inch pie.
Unbaked pastry for a 2-crust, 9-inch (unsweetened) pie
Egg glaze: 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water
6 to 8 medium-large Granny Smith or Greening apples, peeled and sliced (6 to 8 cups; quantity determines height of pie)
1/3 to 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed (amount depends upon tartness of apples)
Juice of 1 large lemon
2 to 3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon each nutmeg and
2 tablespoons butter, cut up

Optional: 4 tablespoons plain cracker or cornflake crumbs
Granulated sugar or milk for glaze

1. Prepare the pastry, roll it out, and line the pie plate. Trim 1/2- inch pastry overhang. To moisture-proof the lower crust, brush with egg glaze and/or sprinkle with crumbs. Preheat the oven to 425°F.

2. In large bowl, toss the sliced apples with the sugar, lemon juice, flour, and spices. Add fruit to pastry-lined pan and dot with butter. Brush egg glaze over edge of lower crust.

3. Roll out top crust and fit it over the fruit. Trim 3/4 inch overhang. Fold the edge under the bottom crust and pinch together to seal, making a raised rim all around. Flute the edge as desired. Cut vent holes in the top. Brush the top of the pie with egg glaze and sprinkle with sugar, or simply brush with milk or leave plain.

4. Set the pie in the lower third of the preheated oven and bake 10 to l2 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350°F, raise pie to center of oven, and bake an additional 40 to 45 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown and the fruit is tender when pierced with a fork through a vent hole. Check the pie halfway through the baking time and add a foil edging if necessary to prevent the crust from overbrowning. Cool the pie on a wire rack. Serve warm as is or topped by slices of sharp cheddar cheese, vanilla ice cream, or other toppings.


  • Bourbon Apple Pie. Prepare Old-Fashioned Apple Pie, but sprinkle 2 to 3 tablespoons bourbon over the sliced apple filling before baking pie.

  • Apple-Walnut Pie. Prepare Old-Fashioned Apple Pie using 3/4 cup brown sugar and adding 1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts to the apple filling. You can also add 1/2 cup seedless raisins if you like.

  • Apple-Cranberry-Walnut Pie. Prepare Old-Fashioned Apple Pie with 3/4 cup brown sugar and add along with the apples: 1 cup whole fresh or frozen cranberries plus 1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts. Top with egg-glazed lattice topping. The pie can also be baked in a tart pan and served free-standing, garnished with Orange-flavored Whipped Cream.

  • Dutch Apple Pie. Prepare Old-Fashioned Apple Pie, cutting a 1/4-inch round steam vent in the top crust. Glaze the top and bake as directed, but 5 minutes before the end of the baking time, pour 1/2 cup heavy cream into the vent hole. Bake 5 minutes more and serve warm.

  • Apple-Custard Cream Pie. This pie has a creamy custard filling blended with the apples. Use medium or soft (eating type) apples such as McIntosh or Golden Delicious, as harder cooking apples may take a little longer to bake. Prepare Old-Fashioned Apple Pie using 1/2 cup granulated sugar instead of the brown sugar. Omit the lemon juice but use all other ingredients. Just before baking, pour over the fruit in the pastry-lined pan a custard made by whisking together 1 egg plus 3/4 cup heavy cream. (Note: You can substitute pears, cored and sliced, for half the apples in this recipe.)

  • Deep-Dish Apple Pie. Prepare Old-Fashioned Apple Pie or the Apple-Cranberry-Walnut Variation, but use 6 to 7 cups sliced apple filling. Prepare only half the pastry recipe; omit the bottom crust. Place the fruit in a 7-to 8-cup (1/2 to 2 quarts) oven-proof baking dish at least 2 inches deep. Cover the fruit with pastry rolled out and fitted to the edges of the pan, and cut steam vents as for a regular crust. Glaze the top if you wish.

    Deep-dish pie can also be topped with a lattice crust or with Oat-Wheat Germ Streusel or Nut-Crumb Streusel Topping. Follow baking time for a regular 2-crust pie.

    (Note: For an even greater amount of fruit, double the filling in the original recipe and use a larger pan.)

  • More by Corby Kummer in Atlantic Unbound

    Copyright © 1997 by Corby Kummer.
    Definitions from Cupboard Love, by Mark Morton. Bain & Cox Publishers: Winnipeg, Canada, 1996. 399 pp. ISBN: 0-921368-66-6. $29.95 CND/$21.95 US. Copyright © 1997 by Mark Morton.
    Green Lentil Soup from Microwave Gourmet, by Barbara Kafka. William Morrow and Company, Inc.: New York, 1987. 555 pp. ISBN: 0-688-06843-X. $19.95. Copyright © 1987 by Barbara Kafka.
    Old-Fashioned Apple Pie from As Easy As Pie, by Susan G. Purdy. Collier Books: New York, 1984. 426 pp. ISBN: 0-02-036080-0. $14.95. Copyright © 1984 by Susan G. Purdy.
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