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An apple slice on a plate against a purple checkered background

Photo by Esther Yoon-Ji Kang / WBEZ

Apple slices are a nearly forgotten piece of Chicago pastry history

Growing up in the Chicago area in the 1990s, Theresa Flanagan remembers visiting her grandparents and eating one of their favorite desserts: apple slices.

The pastry, which consists of gooey apple filling between layers of dough and topped with a sugary glaze, is basically a slab pie that’s sold by the square or in a pan.

Apple slices used to be a Chicago staple. Now the somewhat obscure dessert is only sold at a few local bakeries.

Apple slices recipe

Originally appeared in the Chicago Daily Tribune, June 8, 1951

Filling: 3 lbs. tart cooking apples | 1 cup water | 1 ¼ cups sugar | 1 teaspoon cinnamon | ¼ teaspoon salt | 2 tablespoons cornstarch | ¼ cup cold water

Crust: 2 cups flour | ½ teaspoon baking powder | ½ teaspoon salt | ¾ cup lard | 1 teaspoon lemon juice | 2 egg yolks, beaten | ½ cup water

Pare and core apples, then cut into eighths. Bring water, sugar, cinnamon and salt to boiling point. Add apples and cook slowly for 10 minutes. Blend cornstarch and ¼ cup cold water and add to hot mixture. Cook 5 minutes longer, stirring gently. Cut lard into sifted flour, baking powder and salt as for pie crust. Mix lemon juice, egg yolks and water together and sprinkle over flour mixture. Blend it in lightly. Divide into two parts. Roll first piece to fit bottom and sides of a shallow pan about 9 by 13 inches. Fill with apple mixture. Roll remaining dough to fit top and seal edges. Cut a design for steam vents. Bake in a hot oven (450 degrees) for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 30 minutes longer. Ice with a thin confectioners’ sugar icing or sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar. Cut into quarters to serve.

When Theresa came across a recipe for “Chicago-style apple slices” on Pinterest recently, it conjured up memories of the many gatherings her grandparents hosted.

“As soon as I saw the picture, all these memories of childhood came flooding back,” she said. She asked her husband and a friend if they remembered apple slices, but neither had heard of the dessert.

So Theresa asked Curious City about the pastry’s Chicago connection. We spoke with a local baker and scoured local newspaper archives to find clues about its origins and learn why it was so popular decades ago.

Dobra Bielinski has run Delightful Pastries on the far Northwest Side for nearly 25 years.

When she first took over the business in the late 1990s, apple slices were still on the menu.

Bielinski, who is of Polish descent, said many European groups have some form of an apple dessert. But apple slices — and its close sibling, cherry slices — are a quintessentially Midwestern American thing.

“We have lots of apples in the Midwest,” she explained. “Basically, apple slices are a way for the bakery to make money instead of making individual pies.”

According to Bielinski, the heyday of apple slices was in the 1950s and ’60s.

That tracks with what we found while scouring the archives of local newspapers.

A 1945 issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune included an article titled, “Mary Meade Shows How to Make Apple Slices.”

Mary Meade was the pen name for five different food editors at the Tribune between 1930 and 1974. This story, which included a recipe calling for thin sheets of dough filled with apple mixture, was the first mention we could find of a dessert that fit the description of the pastry Theresa Flanagan remembered.

A 1957 headline from the Chicago Daily Tribune read, “Mayor’s Wife Fixes His Favorite Dish, Apple Slices,” referring to Eleanor Daley, wife of former Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley.

For decades, these treats were staples at bake sales, and the recipe was often printed in church cookbooks.

But by the early 2000s, Bielinski said only a few customers at Delightful Pastries were ordering apple slices. So she took it off the menu.

Today, you can find the dessert at some local bakeries, including House of Cakes in the city’s Norwood Park neighborhood and Iversen’s in south suburban Blue Island.

“I would say it's a nostalgic food item,” Bielinski said.

But for Theresa, our question asker, nostalgia isn’t a bad thing. She recently tried an apple slice for the first time in decades and was flooded with memories. She said the dessert is just one way for her kids, who’ve spent time with their great-grandfather, to feel closer to that generation.

“[Apple slices] are just familiar and comforting,” she said. “We can connect to the past.”

Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter on WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on X @estheryjkang.

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