Vinegar Pie [by Katy]

[For three weeks, Josh & Katy blogsit]

Good morning class! Today we will study HISTORIC EARLY AMERICAN DESSERTS.

That’s right! I am talking about desserts that people made in this country a LONG time ago, certainly a long time before you were born. When I am not watching Days of Our Lives or stockpiling cereal, historic early American desserts are one of my hobbies.

Do you know what a slump is? What about a grunt? Have you ever had Scripture Cake? What about Sugar Pie? I simply can’t get enough of this kind of recipe.

And sometimes, when I’m in the right mood, I’ll braid my hair, tie on a pinafore and whip up a batch of cornpone!

Here’s me goofing off in the kitchen with my Pa and my sister Mary.


Many of you have noticed that Josh and I operate on a budget. So I thought it might be appropriate to spotlight a budget-minded recipe I’ve often noted but never attempted: Vinegar Pie.

Because I’m a very dedicated substitute-blogger, I did some research into Vinegar Pie for you. Some online sources say, oh, it’s a southern food, or oh, it’s a midwestern food, or oh, it’s traditionally African American, or oh, it’s from the Oregon coast — but the consensus seems to be that it was made just about everywhere in this country back in the 19th century, and into the 20th, too.

Vinegar Pie is really a country dessert. It is a dessert designed by thrifty women for times of year when there was no fruit in season, back when everyone had to cook seasonally by necessity. By using vinegar as a flavor base (maybe mixed with a little lemon essence, if they had it), they could make a custardy pie that was sweet and tangy.

Or so the theory goes. Josh was doubtful. He seemed to consider Vinegar Pie a dangerous mixing of dessert and potato chip flavor. He normally is a pie man, but …

“I suspect there’s some reason we don’t have vinegar pies today,” Josh said dourly.

This is Josh, doubtful and dour:


I got my recipe for Vinegar Pie from one of my favorite baking reference books, the classic Fannie Farmer Baking Book by Marion Cunningham. (She puts it in her “Old American Pies” section, along with Shoofly Pie and Osgood Pie and Tyler Pudding Pie and others I’ll need to try some time.)

And the ingredients? Well, it had a bit of flour, a lot of sugar, a few eggs — and an entire half cup of cider vinegar in the filling.

As well as a little lemon zest, which is maybe cheating. I don’t think people had that many lemons on the frontier. But then I’m making it in a gas oven instead of a wood stove, aren’t I? That’s cheating, too. (And it’s not that I COULDN’T make it on a wood stove, I’ll have you know. I know how. I used to have a job pretending to be a sailor on a historic ship cooking on a wood stove in a galley. But that’s neither here nor there.)

Here’s me cheating by mixing up the filling on the gas stove top:


Here’s my empty pie shell, waiting, so lonely for its vinegar-y filling:


The wonderful thing about making Vinegar Pie is the smell! Everything smells like …. vinegar. Nothing says a home-baked dessert like that sour smell I associate with Easter egg dye and science projects shaped like volcanos! I am told one could use regular white vinegar in one’s pie, but I used an apple cider vinegar. I wouldn’t experiment with balsamic, if I were you. I think the brown color would be disturbing.

Here is the finished product, along with my bottle of vinegar. It looks okay, doesn’t it? I mean, if I told you it was lemon custard pie that JUST HAPPENED to be sitting next to a bottle of vinegar, you’d think it looked okay, right?


Here is Josh’s slice, topped with some whipped cream:


And the verdict? Did Josh change his mind, decide he prejudged unfairly, and beg for seconds?

“It’s … interesting,” he said, after his first mouthful.

Interesting good or bad?

“You can taste the vinegar,” he decided, “but it’s not a bad taste necessarily. It is strong, though.”

I thought it had a faintly apple juice-y flavor, due no doubt to that apple cider vinegar. Truth be told, it wasn’t the most pleasing flavor. I thought it a little peculiar.

“Mmmm,” said Josh gamely, rubbing his belly in an attempt at appreciation.

But if you were holed up in a dugout in Minnesota, ready to face the long winter, wouldn’t you appreciate the sweet end to a meal? Or if you were a sharecropper in Tennessee, looking to stretch your budget as far as at would go?

“Sure,” nodded Josh carefully. “But I don’t know how much more of this pie I’m going to eat right NOW, if that’s okay.”

It wasn’t okay. I slammed my hand down on the table and demanded he continue eating another SLICE OF HISTORY. He did. But I knew in my heart of hearts he was eating it because he was scared of me, not because he really liked it.

Has anyone out there had Vinegar Pie and liked it?

Ah well. This Monday is Josh’s birthday, so I’ll be making another kind of pie then. Some time soon, however, I’ll be tackling another unusual early American dessert. Stay tuned.

You WILL be educated about historic desserts. Don’t make me come out of this blog and force you! –katy

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