Adrienne Kane

After my recent run-ins with pie recipes that didn’t work, it was a relief and a joy to work with Adrienne Kane’s United States of Pie. As I read it, I found myself wondering where Kane found so many obscure and interesting pies. So I was interested to read her piece for this week’s newsletter, which chronicles her misadventures working with historical and regional recipes and sheds some light on what went in to making them the solidly workable recipes I’ve so appreciated. I hope you’ll enjoy her piece as well.

Adrienne KaneAdrienne Kane

In my new cookbook United States of Pie, I explore regional and historical pies from across the nation. Writing it was a bit like an excavation-unearthing recipes from times past is an exhilarating, though at times daunting task.

When I began, I sat for hours in the stacks of Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library, surrounded by heirloom cookbooks. The softened pages, the broken spines, the disorganized lists of ingredients, the cryptic instructions were realistic history lessons about how people were eating decades ago. The recipes sounded tantalizing; and my imagination went wild. It wasn’t until I actually checked out a few of these volumes, brought them home, and began experimenting in my very own kitchen, that I ran into difficulties.

Shuffling through recipes that listed coffee cupfuls of sugar and not modern day metric measurements, or spoonfuls of rare spices, I had to do a heavy amount of guesswork. Directions like: stir until thickened may have worked for Mrs. Washington in her 1886 book, The Unrivalled Cook-book and Housekeeper’s Guide, but directions needed specificity in today’s cookbooks. Soon I realized that these heirloom recipes would be used as an inspiration for creating a trust-worthy, modern recipe. So I rolled up my sleeves, and got to work.

I ran into all sorts of issues: fillings that were too runny or would never set, meringues that wept, brittle crusts, and well, just some bad flavor combinations (grated apple and sweetened flaked coconut was one forgotten recipe I decided deserved to remain forgotten!). But oven on, I forged my way through. (Yes, poor me.)

I learned that dinner guests-and there were many in my pie-making explorations-loved experimentation. For the sake of a cookbook, they will thankfully eat just about anything. I learned about dough and crusts, keeping in mind tricks to pass on to the novice pie baker in the book. I traveled the country, meeting stellar pie experts. We chatted about seasonal fruit used to make pies, like the Concord Grape Pie of Naples, New York, and the Olallieberry Pie in Pescadero, California (all recipes in the book). And I did some culinary discovery of my own, reworking recipes for delicious pies like the Browned Butter Butterscotch and Black Bottom Pie, which are now much-loved recipes that have been added to my repertoire because of writing United States of Pie.

One unexpected thing I learned is that it’s not simply historical cookbooks that are “historical”-all cookbooks are. They capture a time and place, a mood or celebration: they take you into another author’s world through her palate and recipes. So get cooking-and enjoy a taste of the culinary past!

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