literary food blog, for readers with good taste.

Team of Rivals & Apple Pie Cups

Team of Rivals & Apple Pie Cups

I’ve lived in Illinois my entire life and surprise, sometime during each of my early elementary school years we were taught the de facto legend of our state’s adopted son, Abraham Lincoln. The story went a little like this: Born in Kentucky to the son of poor farmers, Abraham Lincoln and his family came to Illinois in search of new opportunities. A self-taught man, Lincoln finds himself pursuing law, going on to win a state senate seat and eventually the presidency. Sound about right? I had absolutely no idea how wrong I was. To my Illinoisan mind, I thought I knew exactly how the Lincoln story went down. Short of a sick day Ken Burns documentary binge, I wasn’t too keen on investigating it any further, either. But one of my best friends, a movie biz gal, was the first to recommend Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin to me (the biography that inspired Spielberg’s "Lincoln"). And if it’s good enough for Spielberg, it’s good enough for me.

What followed was a four part multi-biography, a work that spanned decades and wove together the portraits of Lincoln’s rivals, chronicling the story of his rise to power. From a bleak childhood in rural Kentucky to a bleaker adolescence under the hand of an abusive father, and onward into the morass of political complexity before the Civil War, we follow Lincoln’s journey. And slowly, I found myself lost in the truly inspirational path traversed by Lincoln. I found the man behind the five dollar bill, beyond the penny, beyond his marble frame perched in Washington, beyond his immortalized speeches. I found a man troubled by inner turmoil, a man who lived for storytelling, a man with shrewd instincts and a sharp wit.

But it was a selection of quotes, which he expressed late in his career, that moved me beyond much else. A true test of democracy, he said, was to “elevate the condition of men, to lift artificial weights from all shoulders, to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all.” A real democracy would be a meritocracy where those born in lower ranks could rise as far as their natural talents might take them.

Just simmer on that for a second. Here, you have a man who came from a literal dirt farm, with less than a year’s total of schooling, who taught himself enough law to pass the bar exam, had two failed runs for Senate and was somehow elected President as the black horse candidate. Then, of course, the Civil War peace agreements and the end of slavery. He never set foot in a university until much after he was already practicing law.

For me, the rest of his achievements were built on this fact. Lincoln knew what poverty was like, he knew what it was like to toil and work against insurmountable odds simply to get the equal footing of men who had been born into privilege. The trajectory of his life was absolutely remarkable, and served as an ever-present context for his decisions. Lincoln’s presidential rivals were all statesmen, all practiced in law, all politically savvy and well-liked among their peers. But what Lincoln had that these men lacked, was the empathy gained from a long life of upward climbing. His is a story we all think we know, but have no idea.

What’s more American than apple pie? If you’re a patriot and lover of our country – probably nothing. So without much hemming and hawing, I present you with a recipe for apple pie, in mini cup form – because without Lincoln, a daughter of Mexican immigrants wouldn’t be able to live in a world where she could earn a college degree, work as a writer, and make apple pie in whatever shape is cutest.



  • 3/4 cups light brown sugar (packed)
  • 3 tablespoons butter (salted)
  • 1/4 cup apple juice
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 8 soft caramel candies
  • 3 baking apples (peeled, cored and chopped into 1/2 inch pieces; I prefer Fiji or any other green kind)
  • Apple pie crust (store-bought or homemade)

For the filling

In large skillet over medium heat combine brown sugar, butter, apple juice, cream, spice, cornstarch and caramels, stirring occasionally, until the caramels melt

Add apples, turning heat up to medium high

Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring

Simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, apples should still hold their shape

Sauce will be thick and syrupy and begin to turn brown

Remove from heat and set aside

For the dough

Use a 4 inch cookie cutter or small paring knife to cut out 12 circles

Use a 2-3/4 inch cookie cutter or paring knife and cut out 12 smaller circles

Press the larger circle into one cup of a 12 cup muffin pan. Make sure to press the dough up the sides and overlap the edges slightly. Prick bottom of each circle a few times with a fork

Fill each cup with a scant 1/4 cup of the apple filling

Brush the edges of the smaller pastry circles with egg

Top each cup with the smaller circle, pressing and pinching edges together — make sure it's a tight seal!

Prick the tops with a fork. Brush the tops with an egg white for extra brown crispiness

Bake in an oven preheated to 425°F for 15 minutes or until tops are golden brown. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Source: I picked it up from the Walden Books downstairs from my office. It's like, the only bookstore left in the world, I think. :(

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