Pies, to me, seem to be one of those quintessential old-fashioned desserts. And pastry making an art on which homemakers of the past built their reputations. The Handy Reliable has a good selection of recipes for a wide variety of pies and tarts. There were a few old standards I recognized (3 different recipes for apple pie and 3 more for lemon) and many sounded intriguing (salsify pie, for instance). But the one that caught my attention as a good one to start with (not having any salsify on hand – I’m not sure I have ever even seen salsify) was the orange pie.
If you know me at all, or have been reading this blog for a while, it should come as no surprise to you that in my very third recipe to try from this book I should come across the one pie recipe with a major printing error. (As in, half the recipe seems to be missing). And it will also come as no surprise to you that I decided to try to make it anyway. I am nothing if not determined.
Here is the recipe as it appears:
Orange Pie Two oranges, eight tablespoonfuls of sugar, four eggs, two-thirds tumbler of milk; beat the yolks, sugar, and grated peel of the oranges, being careful not to grate off.
There you have it! Ready to make pie?
At least I know my way around the kitchen, unlike the poor women “brought up in hotels and boarding-houses ” where the “larder and kitchen were terra incognita to them” for whom this book was written. Luckily, one of the lemon pie recipes appeared very similar to this one so I followed it as much as I could to try to fill in some of the blanks.
I began with the crust. There are three in the Handy Reliable. I made the “paste for custards.”
Rub six ounces of butter into half a pound of flour. Mix it well together with two beaten eggs and three tablespoonfuls of cream. Let it stand a quarter of an hour; then work it up and roll out very thin for use.
Then I made the orange filling. Following the directions up to the point given, then adding the milk and the juice of the two oranges. Because I can’t leave well enough alone have been trying to use less white sugar I substituted half honey and half turbinado sugar for the sugar the recipe called for.
After 5 minutes at 450 the edges of my pie crust were dark brown. So much for building a reputation on the glory of my pie crust…
I immediately turned the heat down to 350 and cooked it for the rest of the 30 minutes.
Meanwhile I am proud to say that I whipped my egg whites by hand (I had cheated by going to Google for temperatures so figured I’d make up for it by forgoing the electric beaters.) I must admit that I had to use both right and left hand in turns to keep my wrists from falling off but I have never been so proud of seeing stiff white peaks form in my eggs. (Our great-grandmother’s must have had some muscular arms!) I added two tablespoonfuls of powdered sugar for sweetness (so much for my thing against white sugar…). I piled it on top of the hot pie and baked it until nice and golden brown. We ate it chilled as dessert for dinner tonight. The verdict? Hubby, who can eat his way through a tub of ice cream or bag of cookies in a matter of days, found this orangy, but tart, and definitely not sweet enough. For me, the one who considers plain unsweetened yogurt to be dessert, this was nice, and light, and plenty sweet. I read somewhere that the modern North American consumes about 26 pounds of sugar per year and before the turn of the century (1890s) the consumption was only 5 lbs per person per year. Perhaps this is why the Handy Reliable’s desserts are less sweet than what we are used to. I find the less sweet stuff I eat, the less sweet something has to be for it to taste sweet to me (how many times can a person use the word sweet in one sentence?) This means that our ancestors could cook really scrumptious desserts and use half the sugar we do now, and still be happy. They don’t call them the “good ‘ol days” for nothing!