Introduction: Vintage Peach Pie
Runner Up in the
Serious Eats Pi Day Pie Contest
Welcome to my hobby! I like to cook from my collection of vintage cookery pamphlets, and using some of them I’m going to lead you through the process of making a pie totally from scratch.
The pie crust is from Easy Home Baking by the Sands, Taylor & Wood Co. (now King Arthur Flour), which I believe was published in about 1938. The “Coronation Peach Pie” recipe is from 12 Pies Husbands Like Best, an “Aunt Jenny’s” recipe booklet published to promote the Spry brand of vegetable shortening in 1952. (This brand is mostly discontinued now.)
Which is not to say that I follow either recipe exactly. As a baker, I have Opinions (one of which is that what most old recipes need is More Flavor). But I’ll tell you exactly what I changed and why, so you can follow the original recipe or my improvisations, as you prefer.
Step 1: Pie Crust Recipe
First major change: I’ve added some metric equivalents. Most Americans still don’t do metric, but I know that lots of (most of the rest of?) the world does. I can only hope I got them right.
Plain Pie Crust for two-crust 9” (23 cm) pie
1½ cups (180 g) sifted unbleached all-purpose flour
2/3 teaspoon salt
½ cup (95 g) shortening
4 tablespoons cold water
(1) The original recipe specifies King Arthur Flour. In 1938, it seems, all flour was all-purpose flour, and all King Arthur Flour was (and is) unbleached.
(2) Who the heck owns a 1/3 or 2/3 teaspoon measure??? Well, actually, you can get one – search for “odd size measuring spoons” – but seriously, you can estimate 2/3 with a regular teaspoon measure and it won’t do any harm. Unless you’re really bad at estimating, in which case you might want to go to the trouble of getting those odd sized spoons.
(3) I always use 100% vegetable shortening; the original recipe doesn’t care what kind you use. Butter also works, but I avoid butter due to lactose intolerance issues.
(4) Keep in mind that more than 4 tablespoons of water may be needed if the weather is dry – or less if it’s incredibly humid.
Click “Next” to start the crust-making process!
Step 2: Pie Crust Step 1: Assemble Ingredients and Tools
Yes, that’s a 10-pound flour bin in the picture of all the stuff. Some people bake a lot.
a. Measuring the Flour: Dump a couple of cups of flour into your sifter (you do have a sifter, don’t you?) and sift it into a bowl. Scoop the sifted flour into your measuring cup(s) with an ordinary tablespoon until it piles up over the rim and you can level it off at the top, and put all 1½ cups back into the sifter, ready for the next step. Notice that my sifter is sitting on a small plate – this prevents loss of ingredients when moving it around. (Actually it lives on that plate, which prevents a lot of scattering of flour in my cabinet.) Put the extra flour back in your flour bin.
b. Measuring the Shortening: The booklet recommends measuring shortening by the “water displacement method,” I suspect because the density of shortening varied a lot from brand to brand at the time. Since I don’t know how modern shortening compares, I follow the booklet’s method for this recipe. All you do is take a one-cup liquid measuring cup and measure half a cup of COLD water (it has to be cold, you don’t want the shortening to melt), then add shortening to the cup until the water level rises to the one-cup mark. That’ll be a half-cup of shortening for the purposes of this recipe, once you’ve poured off the water. It actually comes out to slightly less than a dry-measure half-cup, so for the sake of accuracy this method should be used.
c. Measuring the Water: As you can see, there’s actually a bowl of ice water in there. I prefer this to measuring out the water in advance, because it stays colder this way and because (as mentioned before) I might need more or less water than the recipe calls for.
d. The Tools: You’re looking at measuring cups, measuring spoons, bowls, a sifter, a scraper, a spatula, a rolling pin (okay, I forgot the rolling pin), a pie plate, and the unusual one: a pastry blender. It’s for cutting the shortening into the flour, as you’ll see in a bit.
The flour company says at the start of the booklet: “This book is for every housewife to help make her baking easy. For those who have never had the fun of baking or who have never tried, we hope this book will show you how easy, economical, and satisfying you can make so many good things to eat for you and your family.”
Trust me, it all gets easier once you’ve done it a dozen times or so.
More on the gender-role assumptions later. The grammatical contortions you can deal with on your own.
Click “Next” to go on to mixing the ingredients!
Step 3: Pie Crust Step 2: Cutting in the Shortening
This is the messy part, but if you’re interested in baking, you can’t be afraid of making a mess. Actually, this particular method is noticeably messier than others. Call upon your inner mud-pie-making toddler if you have to.
a. Add the 2/3 teaspoon salt to the 1½ cups of flour in the sifter, and sift the lot together into the bowl.
b. Cut the ½ cup of shortening into the flour and salt mixture, using the pastry blender. The most effective way to do this is to press down and turn your wrist clockwise, rotate the bowl slightly, then cut down and twist again, until you’ve got the texture you want.
If you don’t have a pastry blender, you can use two butter knives in a scissor-like fashion to cut the shortening (one in each hand, drawing them past each other), but the pastry blender is much easier. Many people use a food-processor for this step, but for one thing, I find cleaning a food-processor to be too much of a hassle (so much so that I don’t own one), and for another, it’s harder to control the texture you get.
This is important, because for this recipe you want pieces of shortening the size of MARBLES. Many recipes call for pea-sized pieces, or a mixture resembling coarse crumbs, but for this one you need slightly larger pieces. Like marbles – the smaller ones, not the shooters.
Step 4: Pie Crust Step 3: Prepping for Mixing
c. Dump the shortening and flour mixture onto the large clean space on your countertop and organize it into a neat pile. The original procedure in the booklet called for cutting in the shortening on the countertop too, but that’s more mess than even I’m willing to deal with. Most recipes skip this step and do everything in a bowl, but I like the results I get this way. Plus it encourages me to get the countertop really cleared off and clean.
d. Take your rolling pin and roll the mixture out until you’ve got a bunch of shortening flakes mixed in with the flour – there should be more flakes than flour.
Yes, that’s a marble rolling pin. Any rolling pin will do, really, but the weight of the marble does quite a bit of the work for me and I like that.
Step 5: Pie Crust Step 4: Mixing the Dough
e. Heap the flakes into a mound and make a depression in the top. If the weather’s dry, go ahead and pour all 4 tablespoons of water into the depression. If it’s humid, start with 1 tablespoon less and work your way up.
f. Use the spatula to fold the water into the flakes, by lifting some of the edges of the mound onto the top and pressing down. Keep an eye out for rivulets of escaping water so you can dam them up. Like I said, messy, but these are the two steps that I believe yield that flaky texture that’s so elusive when I use the “gently mix it up with a fork” method.
As you lift and turn, a dough should form that’s wet enough to hold together but not enough to get sticky. If it isn’t getting there, sprinkle on a teaspoon or so more water (I had to do that this time). If you’ve already added too much water, sprinkle on a teaspoon or so more flour. But try to minimize how much you handle the dough, because giving it too much exercise makes it tough. This is something you can really only get a good feel for with practice.
g. When you’ve got a good dough, gently shape it into a ball with your hands. Then cut it in half and round each half into a ball. Set one half aside in a bowl covered with a damp towel (in the refrigerator if the weather’s warm). This will be the top crust. Put the other half back on the counter, atop a light sprinkling of flour. Alternatively, at this point you can wrap both pieces in plastic wrap and store them in the refrigerator until you can get back to them tomorrow (or freeze them for even later).
According to the start of the “Pastries and Desserts” section of this booklet:
“To find the key to a man’s heart, learn the simple sorcery of baking a perfect pie. Weave your spell with the fruits of the seasons and the aromatic spices of many strange lands. Hide this potent magic between two golden, flaky crusts, or flaunt it openly, irresistibly tempting and crowned with your own inspired artistry.”
Mmm. Who knew that baking in 1938 could be so sexy?
Click “Next” for getting the crust into the pan!
Step 6: Pie Crust Step 5: Rolling Out and Laying In
The tricky part of rolling out pie crust is to keep it more or less round. Well, that and keeping it from falling apart or sticking to the rolling pin, but if you’ve got the moisture content right, that takes care of itself. It would be nice if I could demonstrate the keeping it nice and round, but it never seems to work that way for me. But never mind – once it’s baked, no one can tell!
a. What you want to do is roll it gently and work the dough from the center towards the outside in all directions. Set your rolling pin across the middle of the dough ball and roll it away from you toward what’s about to be the edge, pressing just hard enough that it actually starts to flatten. Bring the rolling pin back to the center, then roll it towards you the same way. Turn the rolling pin so it’s perpendicular to you and roll the dough from the center towards your right, then repeat towards the left, then return to the original position and start over. Choose angles that help keep the dough round. Keep this up until the dough is five or six inches across.
b. Use a large spatula or bench knife to loosen the dough from the counter. Lift it up carefully (you don’t want it to tear), lightly dust the counter with flour, then gently flip the dough over and put it down on the flour. Continue rolling as before, until it’s big enough to fit in the pan. Its diameter should be about an inch larger than that of the pan.
Lots of people have special pie-rolling mats with circles of different sizes on them for this, but I just eyeball it, holding the pie pan upside-down over the dough to make sure. Honestly, I have enough gadgets and things in my kitchen already.
c. Carefully loosen the dough again and fold it in half; if it seems likely to stick, rub a little flour on the upper surface first. If you’re nervous about getting it in the pan, you can fold it again so it’s in quarters. Lay the dough in the pan so that the fold is along the center (or the point of a quartered dough disc is in the center) and unfold it. Gently press the dough to conform to the shape of the pan, holding the edges up while you go around the pan so that the dough doesn’t stretch (that makes it likely to shrink).
As you can see, my pie crust didn’t come out as large as it really needed to be. I suspect that either I lack the nerve to roll it out thin enough, or my pie pan is deeper than the recipe expects.
d. If this was a one-crust pie or a pastry shell, you would shape the edges of the crust now. Actually, since the top crust is going to be handled in an unusual way this time, you’re going to shape the edges of the crust now anyway.
Ideally, there should be pie crust hanging over the edge of the pan. Using clean kitchen shears or a good sharp knife, trim the crust so there’s only an inch of it hanging over. Working around the pan a little at a time, fold the hanging edge in half, so that the former edge is now nestled against the inside rim of the pan. Then go around again, gently pressing the crust edges so that they stand up in a pastry rim around the pan. This is particularly useful for fruit pies, which tend to bubble up a bit more than one expects (at least in my experience).
What I actually wound up doing this time is trimming off the hanging edges right at the pie pan rim and using the extra bits to fill in the gaps all around. With a little moisture and a decent eye for detail, you can make it look like nothing ever went wrong! (That’s one of the great things about pie-making.)
e. Set the pie crust aside for the moment, but don’t bother cleaning up your work surface yet; you still have to roll out the top crust in a bit.
Easy as pie, right? Hah.
Click “Next” to go on to the filling!
Step 7: The Filling Recipe
This is quick and easy, and should be ready before the pie crust has a chance to dry out. Or, you can mix it up first, and let it wait while you do the pie crust, whichever you prefer.
Coronation Peach Pie
3 cups (750 ml) canned sliced peaches in heavy syrup, drained (but reserve some of the liquid)
½ cup (90 g) firmly packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup (80 ml) canned peach syrup (reserved from the cans as above)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated orange rind
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
(1) Note the heavy syrup. This is an assumption – the recipe just says “sliced canned peaches” – but I’m pretty sure that the light syrup and pear juice options didn’t exist back in 1952.
(2) The original recipe doesn’t specify which type of brown sugar; I go with the light brown sugar because it won’t compete too much with the flavor of the peaches.
(3) The original recipe called for 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, but I halved it because I’ve found, to my sorrow, that modern lemon juice concentrate is a lot stronger than fresh lemon juice. A *lot* stronger.
(4) The recipe offers, in addition to the cornstarch, the options of using tapioca or flour. Most people don’t have tapioca around these days, and I prefer the neutrality of cornstarch to a floury taste. The point of this ingredient is just to thicken the syrup and lemon juice so that you don’t wind up with liquid pie.
(5) Unless you have one of those sets of odd-sized measuring spoons, 1/8 of a teaspoon of salt is about half of a ¼ teaspoon.
(6) The spices are my own addition. The original recipe calls for ¼ teaspoon almond extract, but I’m not a big fan of almond flavor in most things – while I do love the taste of cinnamon and cloves with peaches. (I like to take a can or two of peaches and simmer it for a while with cinnamon sticks and whole cloves, then eat them as a snack hot or cold.)
Step 8: Pie Filling Step 1: Assemble Ingredients and Tools
This is pretty simple. You’ll need a strainer or sieve to drain the peaches, which is done over a bowl to catch the syrup (spelled “sirup” in the original recipe), and another bowl and a spoon for mixing, along with the requisite measuring cups and spoons.
Step 9: Pie Filling Step 2: Mixing
Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, so the peaches are well coated. Taste and add more spices if you like. Also, if it really looks like there’s too much liquid – which mine did in this case – then spoon out some of it until it looks less soupy.
Hey, you’re done! With this part, that is.
According to “Aunt Jenny,” the fictional spokesperson for the Spry brand:
“Once you’ve tried these easy, simple methods, you’ll feel like making pies and tarts much more often, I know. And one member of your family is going to be especially happy – nearly every man loves pie! Then give him pie to his heart’s content! Any one of these recipes is sure to be pie to his liking – they were chosen because they’re the pies that surveys, research, letters in my mail show most men like best. So begin anywhere – run your own popularity contest – see which pie wins with him!”
What, did you think that “Angel in the House” stuff was over with by 1952? Not hardly. And their copy writers were still grammatically challenged, too.
Click “Next” to go on to the pie assembly!
Step 10: Pie Assembly Step 1: Assemble Components
First, start the oven warming up. It should be 425° F (218° C).
Additional ingredients needed:
Some softened butter
1 tablespoon cold butter
Egg wash (1 egg + 1 tablespoon cold water, lightly beaten together)
Tools: You’ll need a silicon pastry brush (infinitely superior to the hair type! Doesn’t shed, and can go in the dishwasher! Buy one today!), and a knife or rolling cutter, in addition to the rolling pin, and spatula.
Looking at the photo in the booklet, I think the model’s top crust was made with a special cutter that makes a crimped edge, kind of like pinking shears … oh, you don’t know what pinking shears are either? Never mind. I dug out our pasta cutter to get a similar effect – you can see it in the picture. (Yes, we have a pasta cutter. Also a pasta roller. What of it?) The crimped edges are not essential, so your pizza cutter will work just fine as well.
Step 11: Pie Assembly Step 2: Prepare Bottom Crust & Fill It
a. Take the softened butter and use the pastry brush to brush a layer of butter onto the bottom crust, including the sides wherever the filling is supposed to be. You can also use the egg wash, but I like the butter because it’s not enough to set off my lactose problem, but gives the crust some of that buttery flavor that goes over so well. (If you do use the egg wash, save the remainder for later on in this recipe.) The point of this is to keep the liquid from the pie filling from soaking into the pie crust and making it soggy.
b. Pour the pie filling into the crust. Push it around to make a nice even surface of peaches. Cut up the 1 tablespoon of cold butter into little bits and drop them randomly over the surface of the pie.
Step 12: Pie Assembly Step 3: Prepare and Apply the Top Crust, Part 1
This is where the “coronation” part of the recipe comes in: the top crust is supposed to look sort of like a crown. Or something.
a. Roll out the top crust dough until it’s about 3/16” (about 5 mm) thick. It doesn’t have to be round this time, in fact a rectangle is better. Cut it into strips ½ inch (13 mm) wide with a knife or rolling pasta cutter.
Step 13: Pie Assembly Step 3: Prepare and Apply the Top Crust, Part 2
b. Here’s the tricky part. You want to make a spiral of dough strips on the top of the pie, starting from the center, without getting the dough strips covered with pie filling. Like I said, tricky. First, take a dough strip and twist it so that it winds up three-dimensional instead of two-dimensional. Put one end in the center of the pie and start laying it down in the desired spiral shape, leaving a little space between the strips so the pie filling shows through.
When you start running out of dough strip, pick up another one and pinch one end together with the end of the first one; slightly moisten the ends with some of the egg wash if needed to get them to stick. You may actually need four hands to pull this off easily. Keep laying down the twisted dough strips in a spiral until you have five or six circles – but stop short of the actual edge of the pie.
Step 14: Pie Assembly Step 3: Prepare and Apply the Top Crust, Part 3
c. Moisten the rim of the pie with the egg wash (use your fingers or the pastry brush) and add a last series of dough strips along it, carefully twisting it and pressing the flatter parts against the rim so that it sticks to it properly.
d. Brush the pie strip spiral with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.
Yes, I thought about adding “pi” to the center, but I ran out of pie crust. Now it’s ready to go in the oven!
Click “Next” for the baking and eating part!
Step 15: Pie Baking and Eating
Step 1: Bake the pie in the 425° F (218° C) oven for 45-55 minutes, until the top crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling nicely. If you have a history of fruit pies that bubble over, put a cookie sheet under the pie pan – on the rack below, not directly under the pie. It’s easier to clean than the oven.
Step 2: Take the pie out and let it cool, so you don’t burn your mouth. This also gives the filling a chance to set.
Step 3: Eat the pie warm or cold, with or without vanilla ice cream, as you prefer.
Step 4: As you savor the pie, also savor the fact that you, ladies, no longer have to devote all your lives to cooking and cleaning for a man (the way these pamphlets assume) – unless you really want to (and can afford it). And you, gentlemen, can savor the fact that you no longer have to be the only possible and sole support of your family (unless you really want to, and can afford it).
π may be irrational, but we don’t have to be anymore.
Step 16: Postscript
I would like to thank my dear husband for surrendering a bunch of time - rather more than he realized he was agreeing to, earlier this week! - in order to take all these photos.
And also, I have to thank all the bakers, cooks, companies, and publishers that created all these great books and pamphlets. The books above are just the larger items in my collection. :-)
We have a be nice policy.
Please be positive and constructive.