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By December 2, 2013 Read More →

Hearth Cooking a Pie

Hearth Cooking a PieEach time we offer a Hearth Cooking Saturday, we try out some new recipes and techniques. At our November session, we experimented with a standing crust pie. Pies go back to ancient times but those ancient pies were different than the flaky crust, melt in your mouth pies that we make today.

The pie crust was really a vessel for holding a savory or sweet filling and not meant to be eaten (at least not at first- more on that later). We read about a standing crust in one of our historic cookbooks but didn’t have the confidence to tackle one until we saw this video from the Jas. Townsend & Son Company http://youtube.com/watch?v=dfpMRQsqM34.

Unlike a modern crust which is done with chilled butter (or shortening), the standing crust is made with melted butter, flour and water. Lorraine Walker built the crust the day before our Hearth Cooking Saturday and said it was pretty hard to make- you had to work very quickly because the dough dried out and cooled fast making it tough and crumbly.

Hearth Cooking a PieShe built the crust and baked it for a short time- long enough to set the crust and brown just a bit. On Saturday we prepared a chicken stew to go inside. We used two boneless breasts so that we wouldn’t have to pick out the bones. We put the breasts, some diced carrots and potatoes in a pot with milk and water (50/50) to cover and boiled it until the chicken was tender and falling apart. We then spooned the mixture into the standing crust (the lid comes off), replaced the lid and put the pie in our bee hive oven to bake. While it was baking, we made a white sauce in our spider pan over coals. For the white sauce, we dredged a hunk of butter the size of an egg in flour. After browning the butter and flour in the spider, we slowly added milk until we had a nice roux. A little thyme and pepper were added for flavor. When the pie came out of the oven, we poured the roux over the chicken and served it with some of our fresh baked bread. It was delicious!

But you are probably wondering why go to all that trouble to make a crust that you aren’t going to eat? Remember, this crust is a vessel. For the 18th century cook, baking was an all day activity done maybe once a week. Also, for her, preserving food was paramount. A standing crust pie would be made up (or perhaps several pies), then lard or suet would be rendered and poured over the top of the filling. When it cooled, it formed a hard topping that kept oxygen out (necessary for aerobic bacteria to flourish) as well as insects. The pie could then be placed on a cool shelf for eating later in the week. The fat topping layer would be removed and the contents spooned out for eating.  Once the pie/vessel was empty, it could be crumbled into a soup or stew to thicken it. Waste not, want not!

A note on the Jas. Townsend & Son Company: We have never bought any of their reproduction cookware, so we can’t speak to the quality of their products but we have found their videos and their blog, savoringthepast.net to be very informative and fun! We will share some of our other favorite hearth cooking resources in a future post.