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Pi Day: Celebrate with a vintage custard pie

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Kitchen Report

(Read caption) Celebrate Pi Day with a Victorian custard pie that is smooth without being sugary.

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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.


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