Pi Day may be a good excuse to indulge in whipped cream and sugary fillings nestled in graham cracker crusts. Here's a vintage pie recipe that doesn't go overboard with sugar and is still a satisfying end to a good meal.
Baking a pie for Pi Day (March 14, aka 3.14) may seem like a daunting task. But an easy recipe to tackle would be this simple Victorian custard pie from the late 1800s. With its short list of ingredients, not much can go wrong. I tested it last fall for the Mary Baker Eddy Library, which sponsored a month-long look at 19th-century foodways. (Mary Baker Eddy was the founder of The Christian Science Monitor.)
The first thing I noticed was how few eggs and little sugar are used in this recipe. Most contemporary custard pie recipes call for 3 to 4 eggs and at least 3/4 cups of sugar, as opposed to the old-timey 3 tablespoons in this recipe from Fannie Farmer’s “The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook.” This could be for two reasons: (1) sugar was an expensive commodity in the late 1800s and (2) the American diet was much more bland than it is today.
I doubt the taste buds of our Victorian-era ancestors could tolerate our modern sugar-based diet!
The other wording I stumbled over in this recipe was “paste,” this of course meant the pie shell. And in Fannie Farmer’s cookbook there was no actual recipe for the pie shell. I can only assume that the cooking school took for granted that most home cooks knew how to mix and roll out a pie shell.
I do not, at least not by heart.
My preference, of course, is to buy a premade pie shell because it’s so easy and takes no time. But for the sake of recreating the Victorian experience, I persisted to rollout my own dough. If you are a novice pie dough maker like me, be sure to mix and refrigerate your dough before preparing the filling.
The recipe also does not indicate how much to preheat the oven, nor how long the custard pie should bake. It simply says “bake in a quick oven at first.” So I preheated the oven to 400 degrees F., and then reduced it to 350 degrees F., after the rim had set, as the recipe instructs.