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By March 12, 2021 Read More →

Happy Pi(e) Day!

Let’s celebrate National Pi Day with some Pi(e)!

In mathematics, pi stands for the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. In other words, if you divide the distance around any circle (circumference) by the length of that circle’s diameter, it will always come out with the same answer, 3.14159265…, which we round off to 3.14. That’s why the 14th day of the third month, March 14, is celebrated as Pi Day. But enough with the math. Let’s talk about the other kind of pie. I’ve chosen three savory pie recipes from each of the last three centuries to share with you.

Some of the pies made in the 18th century were a lot different than those we make today. The pie crust they made was really just a vessel for holding a savory or sweet pie filling and not meant to be eaten. Unlike modern pie crusts that are made with chilled ingredients, the crust for these pies, called standing pies or coffins, are made with melted butter and boiling water.

Pies got a lot easier to work with in the 19th century. The pie crusts were made as most of us would make them today. Savory pies were very popular because they were economical to make since the cook could make a smaller amount of meat serve a lot more people by mixing the meat with other ingredients in a pie. It was not uncommon to even serve pie for breakfast. Apple pie for breakfast, you can’t beat that! Often 19th century pies are quite rich as cooks loved using lots of butter and cream in their recipes.

Even though I’m dating the last pie to the 20th century, Tourtiere originated long ago and it is still very popular today. My French Canadian grandmother grew up in Quebec in the 19th century and this pie was one her family savored. Today, it has become a main dish served on Christmas Eve in New England, especially by families with a French Canadian background. The pie has such an interesting combination of savory ingredients mixed with seasonings more often found in a sweet pie. It’s a hearty pie with a unique flavor and it’s absolutely delicious.

Maybe you’ll consider using one of these historic recipes to celebrate Pi Day this year. You won’t regret it. Oh, and by the way, March 14, is also Albert Einstein’s birthday. This day just keeps getting better – math ratios, pies, and Einstein!


Chicken in a Coffin- An 18th Century Pie

A Standing Pie or Coffin

Chicken in a Coffin, an 18th century standing pie made for a Monadnock Center hearth cooking program.

1 ½ cups boiling water

1 ½ sticks melted butter

6 cups flour

1 egg plus 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten

1 egg white, beaten

  • Combine flour, whole egg, egg yolk in a bowl.

  • Stir in boiling water and butter and stir.

  • Put dough (it should feel like Play Doh) on floured surface and knead for a couple minutes.

  • Cover dough and let it rest for 5 minutes.

  • Cut dough into thirds. Roll two of the thirds into circles, about 8” in diameter. These will be the pie base and the pie lid.

  • Roll the last third into a rectangle about 2 ½” wide and about 25”-26” long. (The diameter of the pie base, 8”, times pi, 3.14. Math comes in so handy!) This will be the wall of the pie.

  • Place the pie base on parchment paper on a baking sheet and use the beaten egg white to attach the pie wall and to “glue” the wall seam. Place the pie lid on the parchment paper but not attached to the pie wall. To help keep the sides of the pie shell standing, line the wall of the crust with aluminum foil and fill the shell with dried beans or rice which it is cooking. (Obviously they didn’t have aluminum foil in the 18th century but it will help keep the pie wall standing.)

  • Bake the pie shell and lid at 450 degrees for about 15 minutes until the edges start to brown. Remove the beans or rice from the shell.

  • Fill pie with cooked chicken, carrots, and potatoes. Put the lid on pie and bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.

  • While the pie is baking make a white by taking an egg-sized piece of room temperature butter and mixing it with an equal amount of flour. Heat in a pan until it starts to brown. Slowly add milk and seasonings.

  • When the pie comes out of the oven, remove the lid and pour the sauce into the pie vessel.

Cook’s Note: Remember when you are serving this dish, you are only serving the chicken stew filling. The 18th century cook would then take the empty pie shell and save it to either crumble into a soup to thicken or she might use the pie shell again in a few days for another stew. Reusable pie shells!

Pork, Sage and Apple Pie- A 19th Century Pie

This is one of my all-time favorite pies and everyone loves it.

2 or more cups peeled and sliced Granny Smith apples

About 3 cups pork, cubed, browned in butter, and cooled

1 tablespoon butter

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon flour

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage

1/3 cup boiled cider*

2/3 cup heavy cream

  • Make pastry for two 9” pie crusts.

  • Line pie pan with pastry and fill with apples and cooled, cooked pork.

  • Using the saucepan the pork was cooked in, add butter and onions. Sauté onions until they are tender. Add flour to the pan, stir into onions and cook 1 more minute.

  • Add rest of ingredients and simmer 1-2 minutes. Cool.

  • Pour cooled sauce over apples and pork and cover pie with top crust.

  • Bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees.

  • Let pie rest 15 minute before cutting.

*If you’re not using commercially-made boiled cider, boil regular cider until it reduced to a syrup-like consistency. A gallon of cider would need to boil down to 1 cup to have the proper consistency. If you can’t find boiled cider at your local grocery, you can get it from King Arthur Baking Company.

Classic Tourtiere- A 20th Century Pie with Deep Roots

1 pound ground pork

1 pound ground beef

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium to large baked potatoes, mashed with skins removed (about 1 cup)

¾ cup beef broth

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

½ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon salt

For Butter Pie Crust:

2 ½ cups flour

½ teaspoon salt

2 sticks unsalted butter

1 cup ice cold water

1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water for egg wash

  • Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and sauté about 10 minutes until tender and golden.

  • Using your hands, mix pork and beef together in a bowl.

  • Add meat to onions and cook for about 10 minutes. Break up meat as it is cooking to avoid large clumps.

  • Add in rest of ingredients and mix together. Lower heat to medium-low and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid is evaporated.

  • Refrigerate the mixture for about 2 hours or until it is completely chilled.

  • To make the pastry, cut butter into the flour and salt using a food processor, pastry blender, or your fingers until the mixture crumbs are the size of small peas. Gradually add ½ cup cold water, then add water, one tablespoon at a time until the dough forms a ball.

  • Divide the dough into two balls, cover in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour.

  • Roll dough to fit a 9” pie pan. Add filling.

  • Brush pie rim with water and add the top crust. Seal the edges, brush top with egg wash, and cut steam vents in top.

  • Bake at 375 degrees in bottom third of oven for 50 minutes or until the top is golden brown.


Lorraine, the Monadnock Center's Resident Culinarian Lorraine Walker, who used to be a high school math teacher, is now the Monadnock Center’s resident culinarian. When she isn’t serving up tasty treats from the Phoenix Mill House hearth, she can be found pouring over historic cookbooks and local history documents in the archives.