Sweet and Savory, for the Season
Clinging to the final bright days of fall, but sensing the encroaching darkness of each day, our routines change. Our minds long for the sweet warmth of summer, but our bodies crave dishes that are deeply comforting. Bright salads turn into slowcooked stews and bushels of stone fruit give way to crates of apples and pears. Colors deepen and the fires begin to burn.
Let us take you back to candlelight and colonial cooking, as our pie birds migrate from Britain to the New World. First, a traditional onion pie from “Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy,” published in Britain in 1796. The recipe was translated into “modern” cooking terms by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, as it was a typical dish made by Colonial settlers. The combination of onions, apples, potatoes, and hard-boiled eggs turned into a uniquely flavorful savory brunch dish and also a warm, comforting dinner. We promise it doesn’t take cold Atlantic currents and an early morning out for the catch of the day to enjoy. The second pie, a cranberry apple adapted from “Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook” is less expeditionary, but equally as delicious. The pie is a derivative of the classic American apple pie, with an added ingredient of tart cranberries, a staple of Colonial pantries.
18th century version
Wash and pare some potatoes and cut them in slices, peel some onions, cut them in slices, pare some apples and slice them, make a good crust, cover your dish, lay a quarter of a pound of butter all over, take a quarter of an ounce of mace beat fine, a nutmeg grated, a tea-spoonful of beaten pepper, three tea-spoonfuls of salt; mix all together, strew some over the butter, lay a layer of potatoes, a layer of onions, a layer of apples, and a layer of eggs, and so on till you have filled your pie, strewing a little of the seasoning between each layer, and a quarter of a pound of butter in bits, and six spoonfuls of water; close your pie, and bake it an hour and a half. A pound of potatoes, a pound of onions, a pound of apples, and twelve eggs will do.
Hannah Glasse, “The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy,” Onion Pie, p. 259, adapted from the Colonial Williamsburg Historic Foodways Recipe Archive
to make an onion pie without the accent
4 small Yukon Gold potatoes
2 large Goldrush or other good baking apples
2 medium yellow onions
8 large eggs
3 tsp Kosher salt
1 tsp freshly cracked pepper
½ – 1 tsp grated nutmeg
½ – 1 tsp mace or allspice
4 oz butter
frozen puff pastry or homemade pie crust, with this all-butter pie dough recipe
1 pie bird
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Boil and slice the perfect boiled eggs.
Roll out the bottom crust and set it into the pie pan. Chill in fridge.
Pare and slice the potatoes, apples, and onions. Slice everything ⅛ inch thick. Place the apples and potatoes in a bowl of water to prevent oxidation.
Mix the salt, pepper, nutmeg, and mace together in a single bowl.
Drain and dry the apples and potatoes with a towel.
Place pie bird in the center of the pie pan.
Working around the pie bird, begin layering with potatoes, then eggs, then apples, and then onions. Sprinkle each layer with seasoning and little bits of butter. Continue filling and seasoning the pie.
Put a top crust on the pie, cutting a small slit to fit the head of the pie bird through. Crimp the edges and place the entire pie in the freezer for 20 minutes.
Place the pie in the oven and bake for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 375°F for approximately 1 hour or until the crust is a nice golden brown.
Pie must come to room temperature before slicing and serving. To serve warm, gently reheat the pie before serving.