Friday, March 05, 2021

Oh, my, is it time for pie?

| January 17, 2021 12:00 AM

It’s the wrong time of year to write about pie. I know this.

Many of us are still clinging to those New Year’s resolutions to eliminate all sugar and carbs from our diet and lose those pandemic-induced extra pounds. The struggle is real.

But here’s what happened. In another kind of January cleansing, I was going through my books and culling out a bunch to donate to a local thrift store when I found one called “Old-time Farmhouse Cooking” by Barbara Swell. I don’t know where it came from, but there it was, chock-full of rural American recipes from bygone days and “farm lore.”

Before I knew it I was poring over pie recipes from the early 1900s and articles such as “The Secret Language of Pie” from the June 1927 Rural New-Yorker, and quips such as this one from the December 1921 Farm Journal: He: “If we get married, I wonder if you can make pies like mother used to make?” She: “And I’m wondering if you can make money like father used to make.”

In my opinion, pie has always been the quintessential American dessert — “as American as apple pie,” the saying goes. And I’m guessing pie figures prominently into most people’s family traditions. What would Thanksgiving be without pumpkin pie?

The Rural New-Yorker article talked about “pie timber” being a 19th century term for pie filling, Swell pointed out. And rhubarb was called “pieplant.” I was intrigued, since rhubarb pie is my all-time favorite. Because this prolific plant is ready around my birthday in late May, I typically make a rhubarb pie as a celebratory dessert in lieu of birthday cake.

My mother always used lard in her pie crusts, and I’ve followed that tradition.

A little research will tell you that pie isn’t an American concoction by any means. The American Pie Council (I did not know there was such a group) said pie has been around since the ancient Egyptians, dating back to around 6,000 B.C.

Some of the first pies were made by early Romans who may have learned about it through the Greeks, the Council notes on its website.

“These pies were sometimes made in ‘reeds’ which were used for the sole purpose of holding the filling and not for eating with the filling,” the Council’s history lesson continued.

Here’s another bit of pie trivia: the first pies were called “coffins” or “coffyns” (the word meant a basket or box) and were filled with savory meat fillings, according to What’s Cooking America.

Included in my long-lost cookbook was a recipe for Pilgrim Pie from the 1905 Rural New-Yorker.

“Definitely not a recipe for beginners, this pork pie is authentic and tasty,” the author advised. “Why it was a 1905 farm husband’s idea of a good time!”

Who doesn’t equate pie with a good time? One of my best pie memories was in 2010 on the farm in Minnesota, where I, my brothers and Mom had gathered one last time for a gigantic yard sale before she moved into town. Dad had passed away the year before.

It was September and the apple tree was brimming with fruit — there were so many apples we sold baskets of them at the sale, too. I used the farmhouse oven for the last time to bake two apple pies, using Mom’s recipe that is still taped inside my 1974 Hawley Lutheran cookbook.

We all knew it likely would be the last time we’d gather there. Memories were served up alongside the pie, and we savored every bite.

News Editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or