Historic Pie

Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 12.56.49 PMRobert Cox has gone where no man has gone before…well, that’s probably not true.  But he’s done it well, compiling a history of pie in his book New England PieI had the delectable pleasure of hearing him roll the dough at the New Haven Museum.

Affection for pie came from England. Makes sense.

But in New England, pies as we know them weren’t eaten until the 18th century.  Why the delay?  That has to do with the formation and function of pie.  Yeah, really.  The function wasn’t to relish the deliciousness of pie as we know it.

Instead, flour and water were mixed together to make a thick pastry boat, if you will, for cooking your contents.  You know, your squash, your rhubarb, your poultry.  The flour-water mixture made a tough, impermeable shell that worked well in the wood fire, but also was easy to move around.  So it was your cooking dish, serving dish, and potluck transportation, all in one.

The third crust on top?  That kept out insects and crows.  Useful.  Plus keeping air out of the contents of the interior meant you had your Colonial Tupperware, storing contents and even preserving them against rot.  Who needs a refrigerator?

In the early 18th century, butter and lard were added to the flour-water mixture, and something really, really good emerged.  Pie.

The fillings however, were different than today’s pie.   No blueberry pie then.  Blueberries weren’t domesticated until the 1920s.  Instead your Colonial pie likely mixed savory and sweet, with sugar, spices, and  herbs, all together.  The result was a ‘high style’ pie in the 1690s.  The Puritans, whose austerity included rejecting bodily pleasures and presumably delicious foods, then started to lose their power over pie.

The battle of the crust began.  By 1796, Amelia Simmons wrote the first American cookbook by an American, published in Hartford.  The cookbook featured nine different crusts.

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Shepherd’s Pie

Plus there were false pies and mock pies.  What?  Those aren’t the same?  Oh no!

False pies include shepherd’s pie, also called a cottage pie.  Lots of potatoes, mashed in a crust.  Your Maine-inspired Whoopie Pie is false, as is the Washington pie.

GW Pie


How did George Washington inspire this pie?  The Parker House Hotel‘s celebrity chef named this pie, although it’s actually sponge cake with raspberry or strawberry jam and powdered sugar on top.  Another version of this pie, with cream and chocolate is the Boston cream pie, another falsie.  In 1824, when Lafayette made his triumphal return to the United States,  he got a pie named for him that’s similar to his friend and mentor Washington’s treat.

Trivia:  at the Parker House Hotel, Ho Chi Minh worked in the kitchen, and Malcolm X was a busboy.  Between them and the GW Pie, something there sparked revolutionary spirit!

Mock pies refer to a ‘culinary mockery.’  Mock turtle soup does have turtle in it.  Mock apple pie?  You guessed it.  No apples.  Before our supermarkets made produce available year-round, pie makers had to content themselves with seasonal everything.  Ritz crackers to the rescue!  Add lemon, butter, and cream of tartar, and you get a taste like apples…  Really?  Don’t take Cox’s word for it.   See below for Corporate America’s recipe.

You can also make mock cherry pie with the more readily available cranberries.  Appearing in an 1890 Chicago cookbook, mock cherry pie took off!  Just add lots of sugar and vanilla.

Women competed to make the best pies, the best crusts, at fairs and beyond, as well as for recognition of their economy, during wartime and beyond.  Mock was the real deal.

Until freezers and processed foods.  You know, our world today.  In New England, the classic pie is simple, heightening its purity.  Simple ingredients, harmonious combinations. Really?  No.

Mince pie

The classic mince pies were a collision of the proverbial kitchen sink–cranberries, rhubarb, chicken, turkey, whatever you had, all in one pie.  That was culinary high taste.  So even the idea of the classic New England pie is a delicious myth.

But really, who cares?  Enjoy!

And in case you’re daring, here’s the promised recipe:

Ritz Mock Apple Pie
The classic pie, featuring Ritz crackers baked in a golden crust,
is perfect for the holidays.

Pastry for two-crust 9-inch pie
36 RITZ Crackers, coarsely broken (about 1 3/4 cups crumbs)
1 3/4 cups water
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Grated peel of one lemon
2 tablespoons margarine or butter
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Roll out half the pastry and line a 9-inch pie plate. Place
cracker crumbs in prepared crust; set aside.

2. Heat water, sugar and cream of tartar to a boil in saucepan
over high heat; simmer for 15 minutes. Add lemon juice and peel;

3. Pour syrup over cracker crumbs. Dot with margarine or butter;
sprinkle with cinnamon. Roll out remaining pastry; place over pie.
Trim, seal and flute edges. Slit top crust to allow steam to escape.

4. Bake at 425 F for 30 to 35 minutes or until crust is crisp
and golden. Cool completely.

Makes 10 servings

413 calories, 3 g protein, 63 g carbohydrate, 17 g total fat,
3 g saturated fat, 339 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber.

Preparation Time: 45 mins.
Cook Time: 30 mins.
Cooling Time: 3 hrs.
Total Time: 4 hrs. 15 mins.


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