November 22, 2009

Obscure Pies of Olde New England

Thanksgiving is coming up this week, and my favorite part of the meal is the pies. Every year my mother makes three pies: apple (which is pretty common), squash (maybe not so common), and mincemeat (which is kind of rare these days). I asked her once why these three, and she said they're what her mother always cooked. My grandmother came to Massachusetts from Quebec when she was a small child, so I'm not sure where she learned this repertoire of pies.


When I tell people my family eats squash pie, they generally reply "What?!?" Really, squash pie isn't that different from pumpkin pie, it's just more golden in color and lighter in flavor. I'm not sure if this pie is eaten outside of New England, but the main source for canned squash is Maine's own One Pie company. (As this Web site notes, some cans of One Pie squash may have the incorrect instructions on them, so be careful.) Squash pies have been featured in New England cookbooks going back to the 1700s. In the past recipes for both pumpkin and squash pie often involved raisins, and some had raw gourd slices as an ingredient. Sounds like there was a risk of inappropriately crunchy pies back then.


Pumpkin and squash are both native to New England, but mincemeat is something the English brought with them when they colonized. For those not familiar with it, mincemeat (or mince) is a mixture of dried fruit, spices, sugar, and perhaps liquor. Sometimes it also contains beef suet, but vegetarian versions are available. Small mincemeat pies are traditionally served around Christmas time in England, but here in New England large pies are the norm. Some people find the taste cloying and overwhelming, but I love it! Recipes for mincemeat can be found in New England cookbooks dating back to the early 1800s. It can be dated back to the Middle Ages in England.


There's one obscure pie I'm eager to try but never have - the boiled cider pie. Basically, you combine eggs, sugar and hot water with boiled cider and bake in a pie crust. The obvious question came to my mind when I first read this recipe: "What the heck is boiled cider?" Well, it's what it sounds like. If you were to boil a gallon of cider, it would reduce in time to a thick jelly like substance. As my copy of The Old Farmer's Almanac Colonial Cookbook explains, one gallon of cider will yield about one cup of boiled cider. I'm not sure what it tastes like, but you can buy boiled cider through Vermont's King Arthur Flour company if you don't want to make your own. You can read about some people who've boiled their own cider for pies here and here.

Whatever type of pie you have this Thursday, enjoy it and be thankful!


Anonymous said...

My family has been here for 300 years, and squash and mincemeat pie were what we ate for Thanksgiving and Christmas, with the addition of Plum Pudding and hard sauce for Christmas. Hard sauce goes well with mince pie too. And apple pie with cheese, of course.

Nirvuss Lemming jr. said...

I'm second generation Irish and my family always had the trio of Pumkin,Apple and Plum Pudding with lots of hard sauce to mellow the children a wee bit! aS A CHILD i always enjoyed celebtaing Thanksgivng with a bit of a buzz!!

Anonymous said...

Our family favorite for almost 75 years ( at least) is an old-time treat called lemon sponge pie. It's a single crust pie, with a filling that is very tart, and separates into almost a cakey and pudding-like layer. No whipped cream. We also ate tart apple pie.

We ate steamed Christmas pudding for Christmas as well, but our hard sauce was brandy flavored whipped cream.

Peter Muise said...

Thanks for all the comments. I now have a craving for hard sauce! I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving!

Unknown said...

What about Baked Bean Pie? There is a sign in front of a store on Blue Hill Ave advertising the "best in Boston." I have heard that Nation of Islam members are encouraged to eat these pies. The store is not far from Mosque 11, which I believe is the one Malcolm X worshiped out of.

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Rich Clabaugh said...

Mmmmm Pies! Thanks for the post Peter!