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

30 thoughts on “Vinegar Pie [by Katy]”

  1. Katy, your knowledge of history, good humor, and experience with wood stoves is making me look bad. People might have me kidnapped so you go on blogging forever—can you be a little less talented? Thanks.


  2. Oh how wonderful!! Its so interesting to hear about recipes that have stood the test of time, so to speak. I want to try and make plum pudding from this 100 year old recipe book my grandmother has.

    Try the shoofly pie next!! Thats a big thing around here because of the Pennsylvania Dutch, so its a part of my upbringing and a special treat if you like molasses!!

  3. The first thing that came into my mind when I started reading this post was how much I love the “Little House” books, and how interesting the food they cooked was. Then I scrolled down the page a bit. What a coincidence! Actually, I hate the show. But I am SUCH a fan of the books — I read the entire set at least once a year, if not twice. Something new grabs my attention every time I go through them. Last year I got so excited reading about “apples and onions” in “Farmer Boy,” I started looking for a recipe. I found out that there is actually a “Little House Cookbook!” I, of course, bought it immediately. It features a lot of recipes from the books, and a lot of historical recipes. It’s really interesting reading. I think you might like it, too. =)

  4. Wow Kelli! I thought that I was the only one. I re-read the LH books every time I’m home sick. My personal favorite is the hog butchering stuff. Now I look like a genius when I can tell people how head cheese is made! Bleah! Katie, I really loved your pie. I actually made it once with a group at a nursing home. They really seemed to like it. I guess it’s just one of those things.

  5. Why? You’re not thinking about making it are you??? Well according to Laura Ingalls you take a pigs head and boil it for a day over a big fire. While this is going on, you are supposed to blow up the pigs bladder and play with it like a balloon. I swear that I am not making this up. Once all of the (ugh!) stuff has fallen off the skull, you chop it finely and pack it into molds. Apparently the gelatin from the (ugh!) stuff solidifies it enough to make it slicable. The joy of childrens literature.

  6. The recipe for Vinegar Pie in the Little House Cookbook only calls for a couple of tablespoons of vinegar, instead of a whole half cup. It makes for a subtly tangy custard filling I’ve made it several times, but I usually don’t tell frinds what it’s called untill they’ve tasted it.

  7. Katy, I’m inclined to agree with Amit Gupta’s comment. Perhaps you should agree to pick up where the Amateur Gourmet has left off here in the A.T.L. once he shoves off for N.Y.C.? That would make me very happy. I also agree with the Amateur G.’s comment above, and yes A.G. you betta watch yo back!!

  8. Thanks to you, Katy, this weekend I’m going to make another old-time favorite: Buttermilk Pie! All the gross ingredients, same great taste!

  9. A little update: When I tried the pie last night I started gamely and ate several bites before the overpowering feeling of having consumed too much vinegar … well, overpowered me.

    It didn’t taste that vinegary but it gave me the same feeling I get when eating excessive quantities of really rich chocolate. The difference is that with chocolate I don’t stop eating it. Vinegar pie offered no such rewards and I stopped short of finishing my piece.

    BUT WAIT! I had another piece just a few minutes ago (Matthew and Kari stopped-by and we had to bust it out). It is much, much better when it is straight-from-the-fridge cold. The smell is still a bit much but the pie itself has only a minor aftertaste of vinegar and is otherwise a perfectly decent lemon custard pie.

    Still, however, doesn’t make it into my top five pies ever.

  10. Kelli, Cate, Emily Z: I, too, love the Little House cookbook!

    I must say that my favorite recipe in there is Starling Pie. Such a tricky dish, though. It calls for x pounds of starling meat. Starlings — those big black birds in your backyard? This really presents a problem. Being an essentially urban/suburban kind of girl, I do not own a rifle. And when I poison my bird feeder, the meat gets all contaminated and Josh ends up getting sick. It’s also very difficult to make on a weeknight, what with all the slaughtering and all. Takes hours.

    Allie: Good work on the buttermilk pie idea. That’s the spirit! Do you have a digital camera? You should take a picture of your buttermilk pie and we could post it. I have been very interested in trying one myself.

    Lisa: Shoo-fly pie is delish! I may make one of those soon. Next up is a fruit pie, however. Something less unusual — it’s Josh’s birthday, after all. If you make a plum pudding, take a picture and pass it along, will you?

    Everyone else: Thank you.

  11. You know, there’s an apple vinegar that we have at home that’s much closer to an apple balsamic… sweet with a subtle tang. I’ll take a look at the brand and let you know. I know that most regular old apple cider vinegars are very tart and a bit harsh. But with a fancier vinegar it might me more edible.

    Ah, but maybe using fancy vinegar defeats the purpose. :D But it’d be worth a try.

    And thanks for sitting in, I concur with the group… you guys should def. start your own blog after this!

  12. Iva lee delclef

    I’m 78 years old and grew up in Indiana eating Vinegar pie. It was a family is one of the things I most regret, not getting my mothers recipe for it.

    I have seen many recipes for vinegar pie but none like hers. She did not use eggs. she did use dark karo syrup and cider vinegar (home made).I think she used some brown sugar and flour for thickening.

    has any one seen a similar recupe?


  13. I haven’t tried Vinegar Pie – but I am absolutely devoted to Osgood Pie, my favorite pie ever. My recipe is one passed down in the family, and different from others I’ve seen on the internet, as ours has no nuts and is made with Vinegar. The vinegar gives the pie a little bit of tangy flavor, but not overwhelming. YUMMMMM! I encourage you to try it once you’ve recovered from your vinegar pie experience!

  14. Margaret Quiett

    At Christmas and Thanksgiving when my mom was making lots of pies there was always a little pie crust left. Mom would roll it out and put it in the bottom of a pie pan. Then she would make what she called a sour cream pie out of cream, vinegar,sugar, and eggs. I do not know what else. The pie filling was very thin, rich and very good. Have you ever heard of something like this?

  15. What is the origin of Shoo-Fly Pie? Why is it named that and by whom? Where can I get a good recipe for it?


  16. Hi Katy,

    I just stumbled onto your vinegar pie recipe. Have you seen a recipe for starling pie? please let me know.



  17. I like Vinegar Pie very much only problem I didn’t get the recipe when my grandmother used to make it in the 1950’s. I am no spring chicken, I remember Vinegar PIE MADE IN A bANANA PUDDING PAN(ROUND PAN),Tea cake cookies, and a lot off old timey cooking on a wood stove. Enjoyed your recipes. Please continue to print them.

  18. Loved the trip down LH memory lane…especially the part about playing with the pig bladder! Made me laugh out loud as I was a total LH book addict as a girl. Glad to have some input on Vinegar Pie. Saw it on essence of emeril the other day and it sounded good but now I am a little leery. Maybe Josh is right…there is a reason we don’t make it now. :) Anyone recommend actually taking the time to make it?

  19. My social studies teacher dared the class to try the vinegar pie recipe, out of our history book. I did; and still make it about once every 5 to 10 years. From what our history book said, it was made during the winter months when fruit and supplies were low.( I was in that class in the late 80’s). The taste is unique.

  20. Chose vinegar pie from a hotel dessert menu in 1956 on a trip to tenn./rt.81-asked for a recipe which has now been lost.To my recollection it had only 3 ingredients?Any ideas what hotel this might have been and what the measurements of ingredients were?

  21. My Vinegar Pie recipe has been passed down for WAAAAAY over 100 years and came from our GERMAN ancestors. It has only four basic ingredients— NONE of them eggs.

  22. Denise Hopkins


    My grandmother used to make vinegar pies, and I loved them! I’ve been looking for a recipe and found your recipe, and plan to try it.

    My grandmother was a country woman from Mississippi, and could cook southern food so well. Ever heard of watermelon rind pickles, or hot water cornbread? She lived the adage, “Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without”.

  23. I need a good recipe for teacakes. The one I tried did not have a good taste to it. Please help!

  24. Chester Emerson

    In the lumber camps of Northern Michigan Vinegar pie was the dessert served up by the cooks. If you stop by the Hartwick Pines Mounument you were given a copy of the recipe. I took it home and had my wife bake one just for laughs. Turned out it was so good that it’s become one of my favorite desserts. You’d be cheating yourself if you didn’t try it just once. But use white vinegar, it makes a better pie.

  25. Chester Emerson

    In the lumber camps of Northern Michigan Vinegar pie was the dessert served up by the cooks. If you stop by the Hartwick Pines Mounument you were given a copy of the recipe. I took it home and had my wife bake one just for laughs. Turned out it was so good that it’s become one of my favorite desserts. You’d be cheating yourself if you didn’t try it just once. But use white vinegar, it makes a better pie.

  26. Alice from North Carolina

    my grandma made the vinegar pie and she use pecans in it because she said abck then just about everyone had a pecan tree in there yard. my grandma use 1 cup white sugar, 2 eggs.3/4 stick margarine(now back then my grandma had real butter she use )1 teaspoon vanilla and 3 teaspoon cannot taste the vinegar in this pie and she guess at how many pecans to use i use 1/2 cup…everyone who has ever eat this pie said they love it.

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