Linguistics: Apple Pie

Courtesy of Jenna Conklin

Modern linguistics has its roots in the nineteenth-century realization that languages as diverse as Sanskrit, Greek, and German are related, setting off the quest to reconstruct the original ancestor language, Proto-Indo-European (PIE). Since without PIE there would be no modern linguistics, it is fitting for the linguistics contribution to consist of actual pie. 


Crust (an adaptation of Betty Crocker’s pie crust: original available at

  • ½ cup butter 
  • ½ cup shortening 
  • 2 2/3 cup flour 
  • 1 tsp. salt 
  • 6 – 8 tbsp. cold water (I like to put mine in the freezer a few minutes before beginning so that it is thoroughly chilled) 


  • 4 – 5 large apples (any type will do, but a blend of sweet, tart, and crisp varieties is best. Granny Smiths are a good texture and will add tartness to the pie, but if you use all grannies, the pie will be distinctively sour. Avoid softer varieties that will disintegrate when baked.) 
  • ~ 2 tbsp. flour or 1 tbsp. corn starch 
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup brown sugar (white sugar will also do) 
  • Dash of lemon juice 
  • 1 – 2 tsp. cinnamon 
  • Optional: Dash of nutmeg and ½ tsp. vanilla


Make the crust 

Put the water in the fridge or freezer to chill. Cut butter into chunks and mix in the flour, salt, and shortening until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Do NOT melt the butter or let it get too warm. Add the water, a little at a time, and mix well until the dough comes together. You may not need all the water – adjust it by adding a little water if it is too crumbly, or a little flour if it is too sticky, until it is the right consistency for rolling out. Put it in the fridge to chill while you prepare the filling and preheat the oven to 375. 

Prepare the filling 

Slice or dice the apples – I prefer thin slices, but any shape you prefer will work, provided it is not too thick for to cook through. Mix in the sugar, cinnamon, and lemon juice and add about 2 tbsp. of flour; mix thoroughly. The flour will help the juice to coagulate and prevent it from being too runny and soaking the lower crust. Corn starch may be used instead for the same purpose. If desired, add the nutmeg and vanilla as well. 

Roll the dough 

Divide the dough into two halves and roll out on a floured surface. Using wax or parchment paper to roll on, or rolling between two pieces of plastic wrap, can minimize mess and help transfer the rolled dough to the pie tin. Roll thinly and evenly to between 1/8” – ¼” thickness, rolling from the center of the dough outward to create a roughly circular shape. Transfer to tin and let the edges hang over; gently conform crust to tin only where there are air pockets. Add the filling and roll out the second half of the dough, covering the filling. Crimp the edges together and trim off any excess dough. Vent the top crust with a knife to allow steam to escape; if desired, use the vents as an excuse to design an attractive pattern. 


Bake at 375 for 35 – 50 minutes until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbly. If the edges darken too quickly, wrap them in foil to slow the crisping process.