FORGOTTEN RECIPES & VINEGAR PIE

First a word about pie – although it is still a great favorite dessert in America, and you can watch pie-making competitions on The Food Network—pie may not be quite as outstanding and famous today as it was in decades gone by. And how many people do you know who make a pie from scratch anymore—aside from those ambitious cooks on the Food Network competing for a $10,000 first place check?

We have, admittedly, become a nation of fast food—and frozen pie dough and frozen pies are pretty satisfactory for the busy housewife/mother who has worked all day and rushes home to make dinner. But back in the day pie was perhaps the most famous of all desserts throughout the country—and any young woman worth her salt knew how to make pies and pie crust—from scratch—and do a good job of it.

In William Woys Weaver’s book “America Eats”, he mentions “Since pie is found in every part of the country, it is one consistent source of evidence for regionalization in American folk cookery.” He says that cookbook literature is full of examples of this, from the potato pudding pies of Maryland, the ground cherry pies of Pennsylvania…to the boiled cider pies of New England and the vinegar pies of the Upper Midwest. In each of these examples,” writes Weaver, “the process of creative substitution has resulted in an identifiable local or regional trait.”

He says that the vinegar pie and boiled cider pie offered in his “America Eats” are but two examples of culinary regionalism. Woys explains that vinegar pie is an adaptation, through substitution, of the baked lemon pudding introduced by confectioner Elizabeth Goodfellow (1767-1851) of Philadelphia and much commented on by her protégée Eliza Leslie. Mrs. Goodfellow’s baked lemon pudding, now known as lemon meringue pie, was at one time a mark of great luxury in cookery in Philadelphia and New York, since it required many fresh eggs, sweet-cream butter and fresh lemons. The vinegar pie reduces the lemons to a mere hint of grated zest and replaces them with vinegar. The result is a pie that looks like lemon meringue pie but the taste is not the same.

Vinegar pie became a feature of hotel and boarding houses in the Upper Midwest, undoubtedly because it was far from coastal ports and the cost of lemons would have been prohibitive. Weaver refers to The Browns cookbook “America Eats”* and their recipe for Pioneer Vinegar Pie, in which they place it in North Dakota but Woys felt that the Browns should have put it in Michigan. Both William Woys Weavers and the Browns–Cora, Rose and Bob Brown–, are among my favorite food historians and I have tried to collect all of the books written by them. (If you are just starting out collection Americana cookbooks, I recommend both authors). And, some years ago when I was writing for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange, I wrote an extensive article about the history of pie, titled “As Easy as Pie”.

*FYI – I think I have about half a dozen food reference books, not necessarily designed to be a cookbook, with the title of “America Eats”. I have an entire bookcase filled with cookbooks with “America” in the titles. It’s a popular title and if I am not mistaken, a title for a book cannot be copyrighted.

John Mariani, author of “The American Encyclopedia of Food & Drink” offers recipes for both vinegar candy and vinegar pie and refers the reader to Nelson Algren’s book “America Eats” which is a part of the Iowa Szathmary Culinary Arts Series. Algren’s book was written in the 1930s as part of the WPA Illinois Writers Project but was not published until 1992 as part of the Iowa Szathmary Culinary Arts Series. Algren noted that as winter wore on, the Midwestern settlers’ systems craved fruit and tart flavors.

I think, in the final analysis, Weaver comes closest to the actual factual history of Vinegar pie; it is, after all is said and done, a fine example of American ingenuity – make do or do without. If you don’t have any lemons – make a vinegar pie.

Although the Browns provide a recipe for Pioneer Vinegar pie, their recipe makes enough filling for 4 pies (not unusual back in the days of farmers and large families, but perhaps not too economical or sensible for us today). The following recipe is from Weaver’s “America Eats” and is, itself, taken from a popular cookbook first published in Detroit in 1882. This recipe, he notes, might be called “Poor Man’s Lemon Meringue Pie”.

To make Poor Man’s Lemon Meringue Pie, you will need:

1 ½ cups cider vinegar
2 cups water
4 TBSP unsalted butter
1 ½ cups plus 2 tsp sugar
Zest of ½ lemon
5 eggs, separated
3 TBSP all purpose flour
2 9” pie shells

Preheat oven 325 degrees.
Heat the vinegar, 1 cup of the water, butter, the 1 ½ cups of sugar and lemon zest in a saucepan. Beat the egg yolks with the remaining cup of water and flour until smooth. As the vinegar boils, whisk in the egg-and-flour mixture and continue whisking until it thickens. Pour the filling into the unbaked pie shells and bake in the preheated oven 35-40 minutes or until the filling sets. When done, remove the pies from the oven and beat the egg whites until stiff. Sweeten with the remaining 2 tsp sugar and spread over the pies. Return to the oven and brown the meringue 10 minutes. Then remove the pies from the oven and set aside to cool. Serve cold.

And if you are still feeling ambitious after baking vinegar pies, here is a recipe for making vinegar candy. The recipe is from a book titled “Good Old Days In The Kitchen” and the recipe is titled

Great-Great-Grandma’s Vinegar Taffy

For each one pulling you will need:
1 cup cane sugar
1-2 TBSP vinegar
enough water to moisten
¼ tsp cream of tartar

Combine all ingredients in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Do not stir after it starts to boil and if crystals form on side of pan, wipe them off with a damp cloth wrapped around a fork. Let mixture boil to the brittle ball stage or until it spins a 12” thread. Do not stir. Pour into greased pan to cool until you can start pulling it.

And here is one more recipe for vinegar taffy from a 1932 recipe in the cookbook “FORGOTTEN RECIPES” compiled by Jaine Rodack. This is a candy recipe which is brittle and has a faint lemon taste although there is no lemon in it:

To make 1932 Vinegar Taffy you will need:

2 cups sugar
½ cup vinegar
pinch of salt
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
2 TBSP butter

Combine all ingredients and boil to the hard ball stage (265 to 270 degrees). Pour into a well buttered pan and cool. Now comes the fun! Pull your taffy until it becomes white and porous. Then cut into 1” pieces.
**
And, although pie is still a popular dessert- apple, cherry, peach, pumpkin, pecan, whether you pick it up at Baker’s Square or from the freezer case at your favorite supermarket – it crossed my mind, as I was searching for vinegar pie recipes – that a lot of desserts have virtually disappeared from our culinary landscape…fools, slumps, grunts, syllabubs, and roly polies are just a few desserts no one hears or reads about any more. So, you ask, what ARE fools, slumps, grunts, syllabubs and roly polies? And is it roly-polys or roly-polies?)

Jean Anderson, in her “American Century Cookbook” mentions that “fools, slumps, grunts, dowdies and roly polies virtually disappeared from twentieth-century cookbooks, certainly those published after World War II” – but doesn’t offer any explanation for the origin of those dessert names. Sidney Dean, author of “Cooking American” offers recipes for apple slump, apple pandowdy and apple roly-poly but doesn’t offer any explanation for the origin of the recipes either. Elsewhere, Dean provides recipes for Longshore Berry Grunt and one most unusually named recipe, “Weary Willie Berry or Cherry Mush”. What most of these recipes do have in common is a fruit of some kind, of a combination of fruits and a crust or topping made of flour, sugar, baking powder, butter and seasonings, but whereas pies have a bottom crust, most of these desserts are crustless on the bottom, but have a top crust of some kind. Sort of like Apple Betty or Apple Crisps, which you may be more familiar with. Jean Anderson surmised that many of these old fashioned desserts disappeared from our culinary landscape after World War II with the advent of Jello gelatin and different kinds of puddings, instant and otherwise, that come in a box and only require water or milk to make an instant dessert.

A fool is a dessert made of cooked fruit and cream. A clue to its origin may be found in “The Horizon Cookbook and Illustrated History of Eating and Drinking through the Ages” by William Harlan Hale, noting under a recipe for Raspberry Fool that “it was easy enough for a fool to make”… but I have to confess, despite having somewhere between five and ten thousand cookbooks – and three bookcases just devoted to food history – I was unable to find actual definitions for slumps, grunts, syllabubs and roly polies—that is, until I began Googling these words and happened to find a website called Vitaille. I am so excited – I found reasonable explanations for all of these words (if not the original origins, which may be lost to history). I suspect that all of these words have British origins.

Syllabub, according to Vitaille, is a British old fashioned drink made with rich cream, sugar, spices and some kind of alcohol—wine, beer, or cider.

A FOOL, however, is a puree of fruit such as rhubarb or gooseberries, mixed with cream. Apparently it is not from the French “foule” meaning crushed, but is akin to the English word folly, or trifle.

A GRUNT is stewed fruit topped with a dumpling, an early American dessert similar to a SLUMP. (And do we really want to go there?) While the elusive…

ROLY POLY was a nursery pudding made with suet or biscuit dough crust spread with jam and – logically – rolled up and then baked or steamed.

And now you (sort of) know the rest of the story.

Happy Cooking!

Sandy

Reference:
America Cooks – The Browns, 1940
COOKING AMERICAN, Sydney Dean, 1957
The Horizon Cookbook, William Harlan Hale, 1968
“FORGOTTEN RECIPES”, Jaine Rodack, 1981
America Eats – William Woys Weaver, 1989
America EATS-Nelson Algren/The Iowa Szathmary Culinary Arts Series, 1992
The American Century Cookbook, Jean Anderson, 1997
The American Encyclopedia of Food & Drink, John Mariani, 1999

80 responses to “FORGOTTEN RECIPES & VINEGAR PIE

  1. Great info! Thanks… I am making the vinegar pie tonight. :)

  2. Perfect timing, these pies are exactly what was needed for the dinner tonight! Easy to make and turned out lovely.

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    • You are welcome, Tiffiny. Have to say, the comments have just started coming in – more recently. I started this blog in March, 2009, and am still learning what appeals to readers. – thanks for writing. Sandychatter

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  13. Sandy, you allude to the favorites of years gone by, but I think that you should do a compilation of the favorite recipes of the 1950s and 1960s.

    Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s illness, maybe it’s seeing the older generation of my family pass away, but I am getting nostalgic. I think about the classic “fancy” dishes of my youth, dishes like STEAK DIANE and BEEF STROGANOFF, BLANQUETTE OF VEAL, COQUILLES SAINT JACQUES, or SHRIMP CREOLE. Even SWEET-&-SOUR MEATBALLS, which I never had regarded highly.

    Forgive me if you already have done exactly this; I am somewhat new to your blog and I’m trying to read through your older postings.

    In another comment, I had mentioned that I am looking for a Coconut Cake. In the 1960s, in Manhattan, a millionaire named Huntington Hartford had had his own museum in Columbus Circle, now long gone. The art was dubious but the penthouse was a marvelous Polynesian restaurant that was opened to the public. I have no idea why the man wanted his own Polynesian restaurant, but the food was marvelous — at least, by my standards then, it was marvelous.

    They served this COCONUT CAKE there, two layers of a simple white cake, with a filling that may have included some pineapple jam, and a frosting of something white and sticky and delicious. Could it have been homemade marshmallow? The cake was lavishly topped with shredded coconut, NOT toasted. And it definitely had some rum in it somewhere.

    The other dessert that I loved in those days was at a famous restaurant called “The Top of The Sixes,” at 666 Fifth Avenue. Yes, also gone now. They served a SHERRY PIE — yes, sherry, the wine and not cherry, the fruit — which had the texture of custard. It was delicious.

    And then, I had had a friend — well, she’s moved and we’re no longer in close communication — who made a SWEET-AND-SOUR TOMATO TART with vinegar and brown sugar. I seem to recall that she added some cheese to it, which I had thought was overkill of textures. Next year, if I’m lucky enough still to be kicking, I am going to attempt to replicate it in tomato season, using ideas from your VINEGAR PIE and VEGETARIAN MINCEMEAT recipes.

    Thank you!

    • Thanks for all the suggestions. Judy. I dont think I have written an article devoted to the 50s so its a good idea- and I do have some cookbooks for that decade. I love the idea of the sweet & sour tomato tart–I will have to see if I can find a recipe. Am looknng for a coconut cake–but the one my niece makes is a chiffon coconot, maybe not the one you are looking for. My mother used to make a tomato pudding that Isearched for – for years, finally found several from the right time frame (the 40s) but never exactly like hers. I dont think it was something she had an actual RECIPE for. I enjoyed your comments! Thanks. I am constantly hoping that someone will go into the archive files to see what else I have posted.
      – Sandy

    • Judy: Look into getting a facsimilie of the Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook. I learned to cook from it, way back when, and it is the best evocation of the era, with the possible exception of the Betty Crocker Cookie Book.

      • good suggestion. despite having a huge cookbook collection, I often find myself turning to some of those tried-and-true cookbooks such as the Betty Crocker Picture cookbook. – Sandy

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  17. FORGOTTEN RECIPES & VINEGAR PIE | Sandy's Chatter Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to say that I’ve truly enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I will be subscribing to your rss feed and I hope you write again soon!

  18. Hey there! I’ve been following your web site for a long time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Porter Tx! Just wanted to say keep up the good job!

  19. Thanks so much for including my cookbook (Forgotten Recipes) in your post. I too have a blog (picsandpans2.blogspot.com). Fifty-one months a year it concentrates on films that are available on DVD – generally small, often quirky or foreign movies that I think are worth watching. Once a year, I post a FOOD FINDS ‘edition’ featuring food products/finds that both I and my readers have discovered and think are worth sharing. I just posted the second annual edition this week. Hope you and your readers will check it out. Last year’s list is available under “OLDER POSTS” at the bottom of the page. Thanks again for including my little cookbook in your terrific blog!
    Jaine Rodack

    • Hi, Jaine – of course I know who you are – I think I have written about Forgotten Recipes more than once – I used to also write for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange before it folded in 2002. I will be happy to check out your blog. what fun! Thanks for taking the time to write to me. Regards, Sandy

  20. Hi Sandy.. I’m from Nova Scotia, Canada.. and read that you have you have Googled where some of these old recipe titles/expressions come from.. For many generations now Grunt has been in my family.. and it’s very popular in NS.. At least it use to be.. It’s basically called Blueberry Grunt, that is made here.. I was told when I was a young girl that the name came from what happens when it’s cooking.. Before cooking the dumplings in the blueberries.. You must wait until the mixture of the fruit, sugar and a bit of water are cooking.. When you hear it GRUNTING,, coming to a boil,, then you know it’s time to add the dumplings, turn down the heat and put the lid on the pot for 10min and there you have it.. A beautiful, delicious, pot of Blueberry Grunt.. When it’s done,, you can serve it warm with either cream, milk or ice cream or just eat it as is.. Yummy.. I have a few great recipes that have been passed down from my grandmother.. There’s nothing like East Coast baking/cooking.. and especially the old recipes pasted down, from generation to generation.. Thanks for bringing back great memories..

    • what an interesting story,

      thanks for writing, Susan and sharing this story about grunt. If I am not mistaken, this type of dessert – same name – is popular in the east coast of the USA, mostly around Maine and thereabouts, I think. It sounds delicious – can you send the recipe to me to try?

  21. This looks so interesting! I think I’ll give it a go tonight!

  22. I absolutely LOVE that I have come across this website. I am 39 and my favorite cookbook (I have many) is The Service Cook Book by Mrs Ida Bailey Allen copyright 1933.My other favorite old one has many years before it came to me lost it’s cover, but I THINK it is called the Economy Administration Cookbook. If this is, infact, the book I have, it is 1913.

    • Valerie – I absolutely love it that you wrote to me! Ida Bailey Allen’s service cookbook was my mother’s one and only cookbook and I used it to learn how to cook. I have written about Ida Bailey Allen several times–look for my article “I LOVE YOU IDA BAILEY ALLEN WHEREEVER YOU ARE”. (not sure of the exact date I posted this but I will check–I have almost 400 articles in my blog. Thanks for writing–it always excites me to find someone who likes the kind of cookbooks I love and enjoy writing about. – Sandy

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  26. For the coconut cake – try a 7 minute, or boiled icing. Very easy to make and wonderufl with the coconut.

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  29. My mother made vinegar pies for Thanksgiving when I was growing up. Now it is my job. We live in central Illinois.

    • Judy, you are the first person to write and tell me that you MAKE vinegar pie. Most people just thought it was interesting but hadnt made it or tasted it. Thanks for writing! – Sandy

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  33. Great post but I was wondering if you could write a litte more on this topic?
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    • Please clarify, Kristina – would you like to see more “forgotten” recipes or more pie recipes? Thanks, Sandy. I aim to please.

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  48. I made the Poor Mans Lemon Meringue pie. Too much vinegar it was very s o u r! And I love sour and tangy and it was a bit much for me! Also, despite adding an extra egg yolk it was runny, refrigeration helped a tiny bit. Have you made this recipe? I am not a novice baker either by the way. If I make it again I will decrease the vinegar to 1 cup and increase the sugar by 1/2 cup, and also ad 2 tablespoons of corn starch to thicken it. With these changes I would hope to trim down the sourness, eliminate the strong vinegar after taste and achieve a custard like consistency. I made this for my 93 year old mother in-law who was served this type of pie by her grandmother when she was about 10 years old. She describes the pie she remembers as lemony sweet with a creamy texture.

    • sorry for the unhappy results with making the vinegar pie – so many others who have made it said they liked it–one was my editor of another newsletter I write for – and the recipe itself dates back to pioneer times. – Sandy

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    • some of this didn’t come through. do you want to resend? I’d like some comments on vinegar pie as someone wrote to say hers didn’t come out.

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  54. Hi Sandy, I came across this article and see you mentioned a site called Vitaille. Assuming it is my site Vitaille.com your referencing (don’t know of another :)) Thanks for sharing. It is my personal site that I do my best to keep useful content related to cooking as best I can. Thanks Again!

    Chris

    • Thanks for writing, Chris – I think that was a while back that I referenced your site (only reason I am assuming this is because I have gotten way behind on my blog–just haven’t been able to keep up with things this year…partly due to having health issues this year. But thank you for writing!! – Sandy

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