Monday, August 11, 2014

Betsy: Challenge 5 - Pies!

True confession: I have never made a pie crust.

First, I do not come from a family that eats much pie. Some people eat pies all the time; my childhood was instead filled with cakes and brownies. So, not much impetus to try it. Second, I'm not a huge fan of pies myself. Third, I was always satisfied with the Pillsbury pre-made crusts.

But, I figured for this challenge, I'd better try a homemade crust.

For the challenge, I wanted to try something unique - not your average apple pie or cherry pie. I decided to check out the Prairie Farmer, which was a publication printed from 1841 to 1900. It contains a treasure trove of recipes used by farmer's wives in the Midwest, and since they're dated, it's really easy to find recipes useful to one's place and time - if, that is, one lives on the prairie.

Rae Katherine Eighmey has taken some Prairie Farmer recipes, tested them, and converted them for modern cooking in her book A Prairie Kitchen. This was my first stop, and I found a recipe from March of 1859 for a "cheap pie". It was easy to track down the original recipe on Google Books, which reads thus:

...yup, that would be cheap indeed
Pretty simple, really. So I had to pick a pie crust recipe, and I went with our old friend, Eliza Leslie, who had a really easy recipe for a butter crust:

I halved the crust recipe, as usual, and just followed the directions. It was a little tricky, as I was doing some marathon cooking for an event and my kitchen was a little warm. In the future I think I'd pay more attention to keeping things cool.

The Challenge: Pies!

The Recipe: "Cheap Pie" from The Prairie Farmer, and "Common Pie Crust" from Directions for Cookery

The Date/Year and Region: 1859 in Illinois/1840 United States

How Did You Make It?: Just like it says - the pie filling was full strength molasses, a very small bit of flour and some cinnamon. The crust was just as Eliza Leslie had it, but I halved the recipe. I baked it at 350 for about 25 minutes.

Time To Complete: I really had to wrestle with the dough. With baking, it probably took about an hour or so.

Total Cost: Cheap. Har har. I didn't keep track of the costs as I had everything on hand. The butter and the molasses would have been the big cost factors - it was probably about $5, max.

How Successful Was It?: I brought it to a reenactment for people to try, and the results were pretty positive. I happen to like molasses, so I thought it was great. The filling was a bit runny, and it was a lot of crust and not a lot of filling. I would definitely like to try the crust again, so I can try rolling it out more thinly - I think it got a little thick.

All in all, it was an interesting take on a pie and definitely not our modern idea of "pie". Given the date, and knowing what early springtime is like on the prairie, this must have been appealing to those whose stores of preserves, canned produce, and fresh produce were running a bit low at the end of winter. I can definitely see a Midwestern farmer's wife making this recipe for a midday meal with the family - it would please the kids, and fill up farmhands for very little cost.

How Accurate Is It?: As always, I baked in a modern electrical oven, but the rest is, I think, pretty accurate.

The pie on our picnic table on Saturday

1 comment:

  1. Making my own crust was a challenge for me too. It helps if you chill before rolling. Your molasses pie sounds good. I made a variation on it, Shoo-Fly Pie, which is a Pennsylvania Dutch recipe.