Apple Pandowdy

By Lucia Ferrara

In honor of the Fourth of July, today we’re making a dessert popular at the dawn of the American nation, apple pandowdy. The origin of this deep-dish pastry with a spiced apple filling can be traced to German immigrants to colonial Pennsylvania.

I’ve been making this recipe ever since I came across it many years ago when my family was exploring the national parks. It is said to be a recipe favored by Abigail Adams, the wife and close advisor to John Adams, one of the Founding Fathers who would be the first vice president of the United States and the second president, and mother of John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States. Tradition suggests that Mrs. Adams discovered the recipe in Philadelphia where her family lived when her husband was the U.S. Vice President. She took the recipe to the White House, as the first First Lady to live there.

With that much history, can you think of a better dessert to celebrate Independence Day? I can’t!

Use any baking dish you have, but to do this recipe right, you should use a large cast-iron skillet.

“Pandowdy” or “pan dowdy”? There doesn’t seem to be a consensus on whether “pandowdy” is one word or two. The Merriam-Webster dictionary, which is my standard reference, spells it as one word, so that is how I will spell it. Merriam-Webster says the origin of the name is unknown, but the food section of Yankee Magazine says, “The name refers to the act of “dowdying” the crust — that is, breaking it up with a knife and pressing it into the bubbling juices — midway through baking.”

For this recipe, I am using store-bought puff pastry, but you can also make your own pastry. Here’s a link to my pastry crust recipe and a video on how to make it.

One more historic note. Abigail Adams’ recipe calls for using Newtown Pippin apples, a yellowish-green apple with a crisp, tart flavor that was very popular in the Mid-Atlantic colonies and states in the 18th and 19th centuries. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington grew the apples on their estates and Ben Franklin is said to have given baskets of Newtown Pippins as gifts to royals and officials when he was the American ambassador in Europe. They are still grown in the U.S. today, but can be hard to find. We’ll use granny smith apples instead.

But enough history and spelling lessons; let’s get to baking this delicious dessert.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Coat your skillet generously with cooking oil spray. Set aside

Filling Ingredients

  • 6-8 Granny Smith apples
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 3 tbsp melted butter
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 pkg puff pastry

Line the cast iron skillet with half the puff pastry. Mix the sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon together. Peel, core and slice the apples. Mix together the butter, water and molasses until well combined. Add the apples into the sugar and spice mixture and stir until apples are well coated. Pour the apple mixture into the skillet. Stir together the butter, water and molasses until well combined. Pour about 2/3 of the liquid mixture over the apples, reserving the remaining 1/3. Spread the remaining puff pastry on top of the apples. Pour the reserved liquid mixture onto the top of the pastry.

Bake in a 400-degree oven. After 15 minutes, remove the skillet from the oven and reduce the heat to 325 degrees.

“Dowdy” the dish by cutting the upper crust into apples with a sharp knife, pressing the pastry down into the juices so it’s mostly submerged.

Return to oven and bake another 35-45 minutes. The juices should have thickened and the exposed pastry a dark golden brown. Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Cooking as a spiritual practice

A Fourth of July Prayer

Glorious Lord, on this day, we celebrate our nation’s birth and the symbol of freedom it represents to many. We acknowledge that you have been the author of this nation and that it is your great faithfulness that has brought us this far.  We continue to trust that your hand will guide her into her purpose and destiny.

Right now, we take this time to thank you for the many freedoms and blessings that we have been given:

  • We thank you for the freedom we have to worship you and share the Gospel without fear of death.
  • We thank you for the opportunity to work, study, and play.
  • We thank you for food to eat, clothes to wear, and a roof above our heads.
  • We thank you for men and women who have sacrificed their lives on the battlefield to secure the freedoms and blessings that we now enjoy.
  • We thank you for teachers who work tirelessly to educate the next generation of our nation’s citizens and leaders.
  • We thank you for friendships that enrich our lives and for families and loved ones who love us unconditionally.

Most of all, we thank you for freedom from sin and for the grace and power to live for you.

As we celebrate this Fourth of July, however, we continue to remember the millions of people in our nation, and around the world, who are suffering from food insecurity. You care for them always, and this Fourth of the July, may we never forget to continue to think of, pray for, and love them as ourselves.

In Jesus’ Glorious Name We Pray, Amen.

— From the Bread for the World website,

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[Lucia Ferrara, the Director of Hospitality at Precious Blood Renewal Center. Share your thoughts with Lucia or ask her questions using the form below or by sending an email to]

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