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Easy As Pie!

Posted by [email protected] on May 25, 2014 at 5:50 PM Comments comments (0)

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Easy as Pie (Pye)

Submitted by Jean Robbins





       In the early years of the  Jamestown settlement, the colonists  craved the rich puddings and mincemeat  pies of their British homeland. However,  the same ingredients were not available in Virginia. the best and most delicious  pies were the ingenious adaptations developed from the native foodstuff of  the area such as potatoes, pumpkins,  pecans, and fox grapes. One author told the story of a creative cook preparing a  mincemeat pie with a cornmeal crust and a filling of bear meat, dried pumpkin, and maple syrup.(9,2)

       Sweet pies and puddings have been a favorite food in Virginia since  those colonial days. Crump discussed the pie, or pye, evolution from ancient times as being complicated and confusing,  beginning when pie crusts were known  as “coffins or coffyns” and used as containers in which sweetened fish or meat were baked, and today, their principal function is that of a dessert.

       Pie making flourished in America during the 19th century when the use of more

efficient sugar-processing machinery and larger plantations in Louisiana reduced sugar prices. Lard, used as shortening, made very flaky crusts. Vents cut in the top crust, allowing steam to escape, helped to prevent the crust from becoming soggy.(2,3)

       So significant were pies and pastries to the American diet that by 1830 a special cabinet called the pie safe was manufactured to protect the mouth-watering goodies from flies, insects, and mice. This simple wooden cabinet had

perforated tin doors for ventilation and was usually kept on the back porch; it

remained in vogue until the invention of the first true ice box.(10)


The Pastry


      From their English heritage, the early Virginia cooks had learned to pour a filling into a pan, then top their dish with a crust. Later they used “paste” or pastry as a decorative rim around the edge of the dish. Recipe instruction for the cook stated to “lay a puff paste all over the dish, pour in ingredients, and bake it.” And thus, the pie as we know it

was created.(3)  Puff-paste or pastry was difficult  for the inexperienced cook to make, and today, few cooks are bold enough to attempt to make puff-paste ( especially since it can be purchased now). To make puff-paste, cold ingredients were used, frequent chilling of the paste was required, and the most skillful handling was necessary to achieve success. Yet in colonial days the recipes called for this lighter-than-air pastry.              

          Perhaps an explanation of the early pie makers’ willingness to tackle the most difficult type of pastry was the cool marble slab on which they rolled the paste for “codlin pyes,” transparent tarts and sweet meat puddings.(9) Dabney wrote of the advice for pie-crust perfection from cookbook author, Martha McCullough-Williams. She emphasized that perfection in making pastry depends on “good flour, good fat, good handling, and most especially good baking”. She urged the use of very cold shorteningand water or milk.(4) Mary Randolph stressed that paste must be handled lightly and that the finished product should be as light as a feather.(6)

      The Williamsburg Cookbookstates that a pie, like the English garden, is enclosed, and that a tart is open and smaller; both were brought into England from the Continent. The American pie, as we know it, is a compromise between the pie and the tart; it is not baked as it so often was in England in a deep pie dish, but when it contains the Old World fruits of apple, cherry, peach, or apricot, it is enclosed with a crust in a pie pan. Pies of New World pumpkin and pecan are open like tarts.(11)  


Different Kinds of Pies

Double Crust Pies or Pot Pies:    Among these are meat pies. The

English tradition of meat pies dates back to the Middle Ages. These pies were cooked for hours in a slow oven and topped with a rich aspic jelly and sweet spices. Vegetables, meat and herbs were all considered proper dessert materials by colonial cooks. Parsnip fritters, flavored with wine and rose water, were served with a sweet wine sauce, and a “boiled tansey” contained “Spinage, a handful of tansey and a handful of sorrel.”(9) In the early days, a pot pie was cooked over the fire. A pot was lined with pastry and filled with alternating layers of chicken pieces, slices of ham and squares of pastry. Water was added, and then the pie was covered with a thick pastry top. When the pie was done, the top was browned with a salamander, a thick plate of iron attached to a long handle. The salamander was heated, red hot, in the fireplace and then held over the pie until the crust was



Fried Half Moon Pies:   This is a favorite kind of pie especially in Georgia, the Carolinas, and parts of Virginia; probably due to the peach and apple farming in these states. The pies are made by cooking dried peaches or apples with water until softened. Sugar is added to sweeten. Then the mixture is mashed as puree. A regular pastry is made and rolled out as for pie crust but into small circles of pastry. A layer of fruit mixture is placed on one half of the pastry and the other half is folded over. The edges are crimped together with a fork. The pie is then placed in a heavy black iron skillet which contains about ½ inch hot lard or shortening. Each side is browned and may be served hot or cold.

Chess Pies:   These pies have been identified with Southern cookery.(5) Egerton stated that  the Chess pie did not show up in American cookbooks until the twentieth century. There are several stories as to how the name originated. One is it has to do with a pie safe or pie chest; it may have been called a chest pie at first. And the other story is the

cook identified the pie as “jes pie” which later was called chess pie. There are many similar recipes with different flavors: brown sugar, chocolate, lemon. Some consider the chess pie and the pecan pie to be similar except for the nuts.

Puddings with Crusts: Custard pies, or pyes, were served in England before Queen Elizabeth I. Of course, the recipes were brought with the colonists and adapted to cooking in Colonial America. Custard pies appeared to be in great demand judging

from the number of colonial puddings which were baked in a “coffin”-the equivalent to our modern pastry shell. Even as late

as the early 20th century, Virginia cookbooks had more recipes for puddings baked in pastry than for actual pies.

      Some classify quiche and pizza along with pies today. The quiche dates back to Medieval Europe; pizza did not come along until around 1905 in New York city. It can certainly be said that Southerners and most Americans continue to enjoy the pie as a favorite food. And yes, today, dessert making is “as easy as pie”.





CHICKEN PYE (A historic fireplace pie)

Put your paste in the dish (in the Winter make it with full weight of butter, and in the Summer with as much butter as the flour will take in). Lay in two large or three small chickens cut up, strew between the Layers and at top, a double handful of bits of lean bacon boiled or raw (if raw your pye will require less salt—Lay at top several large lumps of butter, about one fourth of a pound. Strew over a heaped Tablespoon of salt and an even one of fine pepper black). Fill last of all with cold water—Put into a

Dutch Oven first laying in the Bottom a little warm ashes and let it bake gradually with the Top of very moderate heat and put coals under from time to time, when nearly done increase the fire on the top to brown the paste. It will take near two hours baking.


Recipe from a manuscript cookbook printed in

The Williamsburg Art of Cookery.

[TX715 .B946 1961]



2 cups mashed sweet potatoes,

 1 cup sugar,

1 teaspoon salt,

 3 Tablespoons butter,

 2 eggs, separated,

1 teaspoon cinnamon,

¼  teaspoon ginger,

 2 cups milk,

2 (9 inch) unbaked pie shells.


Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Mix all ingredients, adding stiffly beaten egg whites last.

 Pour into unbaked pie shells.

 Bake for 20 minutes.

Reset oven to 375 degrees F. and bake for 25 minutes more or until set.


Recipe from The Smithfield  Cookbook.



2 unbaked pie shells,

1 1/4-1 ½ cups sugar,

1/8 teaspoon salt,

 ¾ teaspoon cinnamon,

 ½ teaspoon nutmeg,

 2 Tablespoons all purpose flour,

 6-8 tart apples, peeled and sliced,

 lemon juice,

½ teaspoon lemon rind, grated,

 ½ Tablespoons butter


Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl.

 Add sliced apples and coat.

 Place apple slices in pastry crust pan, laying slices first along the outside and then working toward the center until bottom of pastry is covered. Continue placing

in same way until pan is filled.

Sprinkle with lemon juice and rind and dot with butter.

 Moisten edge of bottom crust. Cover the pie filling with the second pastry crust.

Press edges together, flute, and slash vents in center.

 Bake at 425 degrees F. for 50-60 minutes until crust is golden brown.


Recipe from The Williamsburg Cookbook.



2 cups sugar,

3 Tablespoons flour,

1/8 teaspoon salt,

3 eggs, beaten,

2 Tablespoons butter, melted,

 ½ cup milk,

 juice and grated zest of 2 lemons,

1 unbaked(9 inch) pie shell


Combine the sugar, flour and salt in a bowl and mix well.

Stir in the eggs and butter.

Add the milk, lemon juice and zest and mix well.

Pour into the pie shell. Bake at 325 degrees F. for 45-60 minutes or until set.


Recipe from Vintage Virginia Cookbook.



½ cup sugar,

 2 Tablespoons butter,

2 eggs, beaten,

 ¼ teaspoon salt,

1 cup light syrup,

 2 Tablespoons flour,

 1 teaspoon vanilla extract,

 1 cup chopped pecans,

1 unbaked pie shell


Cream sugar and butter. Add eggs.

Then add all the remaining

ingredients.  Mix well.

Pour into unbaked pie shell. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 45-50 minutes.


Recipe from the files of Jean




2 eggs, beaten,

5 ounces evaporated milk,

½ stick butter, melted,

1 teaspoon vanilla extract,

1 ½ cups sugar,

Spoon Bread: An Early American Staple Food

Posted by [email protected] on April 27, 2014 at 6:05 PM Comments comments (0)

    by Robb McLaren

When settlers from Europe arrived in the Colonies in the late 1600's, the four primary concerns were food, water, shelter and security.  With water supplies close at hand and the ability to create shelter, security and food rose to the top of their concerns.  The settler's relationships with the native Algonquins were rocky and tenuous at best.  New foods were found in the New World, but at times when the settlers were not  at peace with the natives, going outside of the palisades meant putting your life at risk.  The settlers developed their own diet based on what they could grow, raise or kill, and the native maize was one of the easier crops to grow, requiring less acreage and attention than English wheat or other grains.  As a result, before long a cornmeal pudding rose to the top of staple foods among the Colonials. 

No matter how poor a man was, if he could afford a little cornmeal, a few eggs and a little milk he could feed his family.  In fact, this dish, referred to in early days as "hot bread" was so popular among early Virginians that it was observed by one  visitor that: " they brew, so do they bake daily, bread or cakes, eating too much hot and "new" bread, which cannot be wholesom (sp), tho is be pleasanter than what has been baked a day or two."

Spoon bread is a great American comfort food....inexpensive, easy to make, warm, filling and delicious.  It is the natural ancestor of cornbread and once you try a mound of steaming, luscious and buttery spoon bread you'll wonder why you don't eat it much more often.  I wonder too.


1 Cup of Corn Meal.  (Preferably stone ground, yellow or white)

2 Cups boiling water

1/2 tsp Salt

2 Tbsp butter, melted

4 Eggs, beaten

1 cup Milk (preferably whole)

1 Tbsp melted butter (to brush dish with.)

Stir 1 cup corn meal into 2 cups of boiling water in a large enough pot to hold 8 cups of liquid.   Add salt and stir for a minute over a medium-low heat.  Combine beaten eggs with milk and pour into the cornmeal batter while stirring briskly until well  mixed.  Brush ovenproof casserole dish with 1 Tbsp butter.  Pour batter mixture into dish and bake at 350 for at least 25 minutes until spoonbread is lightly browned and set in the middle.  Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.....preferably with additional pats of butter melting over the top.

Fast Food Or Slow Food?

Posted by [email protected] on April 27, 2014 at 6:05 PM Comments comments (0)

Fast Food or Slow Food?

by Jo Ann Barton

Members of my generation can remember when it was a treat to go to McDonalds; that was before there was a fast food restaurant on every corner. These restaurants moved hamburgers from an infrequently consumed food (For me, hamburgers were a part of the annual family outing to a state park where my uncle cooked the burgers on an outdoor fireplace.) to something that was available every day. French fries were even more of a treat as the potatoes we grew were not well suited for making them. We did try occasionally but they didn't measure up to those we could get at McDonalds. Now, several hundred, or maybe even thousand burgers later, both burgers and fries have lost some of their appeal. Evidently, I'm not the only one who feels that way as fast food restaurants continue to enlarge their menus to include other meats, salads, and a variety of drinks including milk and juice. Some of the additions are due to an increased awareness of nutrition but some are just to tempt a jaded palate.

Fast food restaurants do offer food for those on the go. The food is ready to eat when you order and can also be eaten in a hurry-one hand on the sandwich and the other on the wheel. They also insure a certain level of quality so that you can have confidence in what you are buying; a level sometimes described as "standardized mediocrity." Sit-down restaurants like Howard Johnsons and Holiday Inn also offered the familiar even when on the road.

With the advent of frozen foods, consumers were able to duplicate many of the dishes at home with little preparation time or skills required. The convenience of these items often offset the fact that they didn't taste as good as the ones mother made. And as years have gone by, mother may have adopted the prepared product as her standard and may no longer have the skills for producing the product from scratch. The next step was the purchase of ready to eat meals-no thawing and heating needed. Supermarkets pioneered in this movement but now many restaurants offer a carry out menu.

It now looks as though consumers are becoming more interested in preparing at least some of their own meals. One indication is the interest in cooking classes. Tyler Florence, author and celebrity chef of Food Network's "Food 911" and "Tyler's Ultimate," says, "Cooking classes are taking the country by storm and people are working them into their weekly schedule: Monday the gym, Tuesday a movie, and Wednesday a cooking class. It's an exciting and savory way to learn to cook without spending two years at a culinary school." (Better Homes and Gardens Magazine, September 2004)

Food professionals are well aware of the phenomenon that consumers want someone else to test a recipe and recommend it. Several members of the Peacock-Harper Culinary History Committee can attest to the popularity of cooking classes locally. Gary Giovanni has taught a number of classes for the Free University, sponsored by the YMCA at VA Tech. Sandy Bosworth and Bruce Jensen often assist with these classes which may focus on the food of a particular country or use of herbs in cooking or meals prepared on the grill. Chef Billie Raper teaches classes at the Hotel Roanoke. Maxine Fraade, cookbook author and committee member, also teaches classes in the Roanoke area. Mary Rapoport often shows food preparation techniques in her work with the American and Virginia Egg Boards.

At the opposite end of the scale from fast food is the Slow Food movement headed by Carlo Petrini, an Italian food-and-wine writer. According to the group's web site (, "Slow Food is an international organization founded in 1986 in Paris whose aim is to protect the pleasures of the table from the homogenization of modern fast food and life. Through a variety of initiatives, it promotes gastronomic culture, develops taste education, conserves agricultural biodiversity and protects traditional foods at risk of extinction."

The headquarters of Slow Food are in northern Italy. It has over 80,000 members in 100 countries. Local organizations are known as convivial and there are two in Virginia in Hampton Roads and Keswick. The Snail is the icon and the name of the newsletter.

One of the activities of the Slow Food movement is the development of an Ark of Taste which aims to rediscover, catalog, describe and publicize forgotten flavors.

These are the criteria for Ark product selection (note that nutrition is not one of the criteria):

  1. Products must be of outstanding quality in terms of taste. "Taste quality", in this context, is defined in the context of local traditions and uses.
  2. The product must be linked to the memory and identity of a group, and can be a vegetable species, variety, ecotype or animal population that is well acclimatized over a medium-long period in a specific territory (defined in relation to the history of the territory). The primary material of the foodstuff must be locally sourced unless it comes from an area outside the region of production, in which case it must be traditional to use materials from that specific area. Any complementary materials used in the production of the product (spices, condiments, etc.) may be from any source, and their use must be part of the traditional production process.
  3. Products must be linked environmentally, socio-economically and historically to a specific area.
  4. Products must be produced in limited quantities, by farms or by small-scale processing companies.
  5. Products must be threatened with either real or potential extinction.

The interest in heirloom fruit and vegetable species is one indication of interest in perpetuating certain flavors.

There are two books by Carlo Petrini in the Culinary History Collection: Slow Food: Collected Thoughts on Taste published by Chelesea Green Publishing in 2001 and Slow Food: The Case for Taste by Carlo Petrini (translated by William McCuaig) and published by Columbia University in 2003.

Less extreme, are the efforts of Alice Waters, a California restaurateur, who has long promoted the use of locally and organically grown, seasonal foods. She sees food growers and consumers working together to sustain the earth's resources. A current project is the "Edible Schoolyard" which promotes a seed-to-table curriculum for schools. Waters will be appearing at the Smithsonian Institution's 39th Annual Folklife Festival on the National Mall in Washington, D. C. in June, 2005. A quarter-acre organic garden is being set up for the event.

Waters' book Chez Panisse Café Cookbook (Harper Collins, 1999) is in the Culinary Collection. She has also written a child's cookbook Fanny at Chez Panisse based on her daughter's experiences at the restaurant.

Most of us are probably not going to settle for only locally grown foods (no oranges in Blacksburg) or even seasonal foods (fresh strawberries only in late May), but there are some things we can do to increase our enjoyment of foods.

  1. Use locally grown foods when possible. Grow your own or shop at a farmer's market or at a pick-your-own farm.
  2. Use foods at the peak of quality. A noted grower of sweet corn said you should put the water on to boil before you picked the corn!
  3. Use cookbooks, magazines, newspapers, and on-line sources to find new recipes to give familiar foods a different taste.
  4. Enroll in a cooking class or watch food shows on television. The exchange of ideas can open up new ways of preparing familiar foods.
  5. Introduce your family and friends to foods you ate as a child.
  6. Try foods that are new to you. You just might like them!

A reference in addition to those listed was Eat My Words by Janet Theophano which is in the Newman Library.

Taverns Of Colonial Williamsburg (A student paper)

Posted by [email protected] on April 27, 2014 at 5:10 PM Comments comments (0)

The Taverns of Colonial Williamsburg

By Laura Pitotti

As a place of socializing, getting a good meal, or just throwing back a few drinks, taverns in Colonial Williamsburg, as in the rest of Colonial America, were a vital part to the culture of the city. Open year round, locals patronized them on a regular basis, however, the business especially boomed in the month of each spring or fall when the General Court or General Assembly met in Williamsburg during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (CWF, 7.)

How often people ate in the taverns depended on how affordable it was for their family. Those of lower income rarely could be seen in the taverns. While women were allowed in the taverns, more than likely taverns would be filled with men. On occasion, women would stop in for lunch while out marketing. On the other side of this, men and women both worked in the taverns on a steady basis. Most would think that bar rumbles would have been the biggest problem that taverns faced, which is simply not so. Most often, tavern workers would have problems with the college students of William and Mary. While the students were allowed to have drinks when accompanied with an older friend or relative, many times they would sneak in and not be noticed. Many parents of these students ended up paying high overdue tabs to the taverns of Williamsburg (CWF, 8.)

Many taverns of the eighteenth century have recently been renovated and restored to resemble their original structure and often visitors can tour the tavern and even have a meal or drink in the real setting of a Colonial tavern. The particular taverns examined here do bear the original names of their true owners in the eighteenth century.

A man named Josiah Chowning who was passionate about breads originally opened Chowning's Tavern in 1766, which became a popular stopping place for William and Mary students to order his famous round loaf bread served with butter and cider (Booth,19.) His tavern became known for this bread and a wide variety of others. Mysteriously, eighteen months after Josiah opened his business, another tavern keeper publicly announced a new business in the house that had formerly been Chowning's Tavern (CWF, 13.) The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation reopened Chowning's in 1941 to the public restored to resemble that of the colonial era.

Another restored tavern is the King's Arms, originally owned by the widow, Jane Vobe. Her tavern opened in 1772 and served such famous revolutionaries as General Thomas Nelson and the future president, George Washington (CWF, 13.) Vobe began tavern keeping with her husband Thomas, in 1750 and continued in this profession after his death. In the late 1770s she felt forced to change the name of the tavern due to the eminent war that was on the verge of breaking out between the colonists and Great Britain (CWF, 13.) She renamed it "Mrs. Vobe's Tavern" however, in present day the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has restored it as the King's Arms Tavern; it reopened for tours in 1956. This tavern was unique because Mrs. Vobe sold tickets for the theatre, had artists display their work and posted rewards for the return of lost articles within the business. Since its reopening in 1956, the King's Arms Tavern has served such notables as England's Queen Mum and the Queen of Thailand (Booth, 18.)

Christiana Campbell's Tavern is one of the most popular of the restored taverns at Williamsburg. Although it was never officially named this, when it was reopened in 1956 it took this name in honor of its eighteenth century tavern keeper. Campbell inherited the business from her father; however, she never kept her business in one place, instead, often moving to better and more profitable locations. This establishment was more modest and affordable therefore merchants and lower level gentry became very loyal to Campbell's business. Many locals preferred this tavern in the summer months because of the large back porch and garden available for dining (Booth, 17.) As the other taverns mentioned, this one has been restored and is open for public visitors.

Within the taverns, a variety of ales, warm drinks and other alcoholic beverages were available as were a fair variety of food items. For many early Virginia colonists alcoholic beverages were seen as wholesome, beneficial, and safer than water (CWF, 212.) This may be the reason tavern business flourished. In addition to this, ales locally produced were always cheaper than those imported. The most popular food item, as well as an inexpensive dish was hominy; made from poached corn, this is what the poor whites or slaves would eat very often. Taverns served a variation of this called hominy porridge that used milk instead of water to enhance its richness (CWF, 28.) This dish was more popular with the gentry and other tavern goers. Soups were also a cheap and popular item in the taverns mainly because they could incorporate various fresh vegetables, seafood, and meats to meet different tastes and desires. Among the vegetables used, tomatoes were most popular because of their potent effect in spicing and flavoring many foods.

Through the taverns, the society and economy of Colonial Williamsburg thrived during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This is just a small glimpse into the taverns of Williamsburg with many other original colonial taverns now reopened today as well as other areas of foods and cooking that were major parts of the taverns' business.


  1. Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. (CWF) The Colonial Williamsburg Tavern Cookbook. Clarkson Potter: New York. 2001.
  2. Booth, Letha and The Staff of Colonial Williamsburg. The Williamsburg Cookbook. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston: New York City. 1971.
  3. Phipps, Frances. Colonial Kitchens: Their Furnishings and Their Gardens. Hawthorn Books: New York. 1972.