Etsy Kitchen Histories: Easy-as-Pie Apple Peeler

apple1Get this for your kitchen.

My latest on Etsy is about the 19th century invention that has innovated my kitchen: the mechanical apple peeler.

I’ve never minded paring apples by hand, but it is time consuming. As opposed to fiddlin’ or courtin’, I usually binge watch TV shows or catch up on NPR while spraying the counter and floor in a sticky snowfall of peels and seeds. But this holiday season, I’ve added a tool to my kitchen arsenal that will make my share of the pie baking so much easier: a mechanical apple peeler-slicer-corer. When I sent my first fruit through the cranks and blades of my cast-iron peeler, it blew my mind.

I use the apple peeler to recreate a 1763 recipe for apple and pumpkin pie, which I think is one of the best recipes I have ever made while writing Four Pounds Flour. It is simple. It is sooo delicious. It is the new/old pie that is going to rock your Thanksgiving table.

pie31763 Apple & Pumpkin Pie – a recipe well worth making.

The finished pie had all kinds of caramelized sugar and molasses qualities as a result, giving it a taste somewhere between sweet potato casserole and apple crisp. It’s an excellent addition to your Thanksgiving feast as is, but there is also room for adventurous bakers to play with texture and flavor.

Make it. Read it. Do it.

The History Dish: Automat Pumpkin Pie

A pumpkin pie with sweetened condensed milk. Can I get a hell yeah?

If you are going to be in NYC anytime in the next month, be sure to stop by the New York Public Library to catch the Lunch Hour NYC exhibit.  It’s free and cute and you’ll learn a lot of fun facts about food.

The coolest part of the exihibit is the installation of  a functional automat.  Automats were the precursors to fast food; meals were made from scratch at commissaries all around the city, then shipped to the automat restaurants.  The food was placed behind little windows, and after dropping a few coins in a slot, you could open the doors and retrieve you treats.  A new automat opened, and closed, on St. Mark’s street a few years ago.

Horn & Hardart, the company that innovated the automat concept, was just as well known for the quality of their food as their unique way of delivering it.  At the Lunch Hour exhibit, you can play with their automat machine, opening the doors and such.  You won’t find any mac and cheese or baked beans inside, however–but they did thoughtfully include recipes of all the restaurant’s most famous dishes.

Horn and Hardart’s automat, from Lunch Hour NYC.

One of the recipes I grabbed when I visited was Hron & Hardart’s recipe for pumpkin pie.  I had a pie pumpkin hanging out in my kitchen; it had been a Halloween decoration, and I decided it was time for it to go to a better place.  Inside me.  I roasted it, which is an easy way to process pumpkin–see how here.  I also made a crust from scratch from this recipe, which is my go to pie crust.

The filling was easy to mix up and the pie doesn’t bake for long.  The recipe tells you “Insert a silver knife into the filling about one inch from the side of the pan.  If the knife comes out clean, the filling is done.”   I’ve never read pumpkin pie instructions so specific–a silver knife?  Using this method, the center comes out underdone and extremely creamy.  I’m not sure if I liked it though, being used to a firmer pie.

But the wildest thing about this pie is I realized I made a HUGE mistake when I baked it that turned out to be wonderful.  I only just now noticed that the recipe calls for evaporated milk NOT sweetened condensed milk, which is what I used.  But holy moly, have you ever made a pumpkin pie with sweetened condensed milk?  It’s astounding.  The caramel-ee flavor of the sweetened condensed milk really comes through in the final product.  Creamy, burnty sugary, pumpkin…awesome.

God pumpkin pie is great.  Why don’t we make it year round?  I guess something about it just doesn’t feel right in the summertime.

The History Dish: Mrs. Lefferts’ Pumpkin Pudding


Pumpkin Pudding

Half a pound of stewed pumpkin Three Eggs A quarter of a pound of fresh butter or a pint of Cream A quarter of a pound of powdered white sugar Half a glass of wine and brandy mixed Half a glass of rosewater teaspoon full of mixed mixed spice nutmeg, mace, cinnamon. Stew some pumpkin with as little water as possible.  Drain it in a cullender and prep it till dry.  When cold, weigh half a pound and pass it through a sieve.  Prepare the spice.  Stir together the sugar and butter or Cream  till they are perfectly light.  Add to them gradually the spice and liquid.  Beat the eggs very light and stir them into the butter and sugar alternately with the pumpkin.  Cover a soup plate with puff paste and put in the mixture.  Bake it in a moderate oven about half an hour.

This recipe was written well over a hundred years ago, by a Maria Lefferts.  The Lefferts, one of the first families of Brooklyn, lived in the area that is now known as Prospect Park;  one of their homes still remains as a historic site.  Their papers reside in the collections of the Brooklyn Historical Society, which is where I came across this handwritten cookbook, and this recipe for Pumpkin Pudding.

Pumpkin Pudding is better known today as Pumpkin Pie.  I love cooking an American standard from a historic recipe because it often gives me a new perspective.  After looking at recipes from the late 18th century, I retronovated my yearly pumpkin pie recipe with a 1/4 cup of brandy and 1/3 cup of pure maple syrup.  And I seldom make an apple pie without a dash of rosewater and some white wine.

Mrs. Leffert’s recipe dates to about 1820; her instructions are refreshingly precise, almost modern.  In most cookbooks from that time, let alone handwritten cookbooks, recipes can be as verbose as a list of ingredients.

Pumpkin Pudding
From the handwritten cookbook of Maria Lefferts, c. 1820.

1/4 lb (1 stick)  butter or 1 pint cream
1/4 lb (1/2 cup) super fine sugar
1/4 cup a glass of wine and brandy (I used brandy only)
1/4 cup a glass rose water
1 tsp mixed nutmeg, mace and cinnamon (I used 1/4 tsp each nutmeg and mace, and 1/2 tsp cinnamon)
1/2 lb (1  cup) stewed pumpkin
2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  In an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  With the mixer on low, add spices and then brandy and rosewater.   Beat eggs with a fork until light, then add them to the butter mixture, alternating with the pumpkin.

Press a puff paste into a pie pan, and fill with pumpkin mixture. Bake for one hour.  Allow to cool completely before serving.  Custard pies are always better the next day.

For the crust, I used a basic puff paste recipe from the book Puff.


I chose to use butter, instead of cream, because it is Leffert’s first suggestion, and it’s not an ingredient normally used in pumpkin pie.  I was curious how it would change the texture.  However, by the time the pie was mixed and ready for the oven, the butter had made it a lumpy mess.


I was also extremely apprehensive about how much rosewater was going into this pie.  “1/2 a glass,” based on the proportion of the brandy I was adding, I estimated at being a 1/4 of a cup.   As I measured the odorous liquid, I wondered if I shouldn’t cut it down to two tablespoons.  I looked at Roommate Jeff, who had creeped into the kitchen.  “Should I put less rosewater in or should I just stop being a pussy and follow the recipe?”

“Stop being a pussy.”

And in went the rosewater.   While I was making the pie, the entire kitchen stunk of rosewater.  While the pie was baking, a sickening-sweet rosewater smell drifted from the oven.  When it was finally time to cut the pie and try a taste, the only flavor that my taste buds could understand was rosewater.

Blech. While I don’t mind rosewater in appropriate quantities, that’s all I could taste in the recipe: the sweet, floral, citrus notes of distilled rose petals, in nauseating quantities.  Even if I reduced the quantity of rosewater, I’m not sure how I would feel about it paired with pumpkin.  I tend to enjoy it more is dishes that are slightly acidic, like apple pie.

More than that, the texture was very unappealing.  Oddly, it had a gritty mouth-feel.

At any rate, the 190-year-old Pumpkin Pudding is coming into work with me today, so we’ll see what the verdict is from my coworkers.  They’re nerds, so they’ll at least appreciate the history.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Mrs. Lefferts: I’ve had better.

Events: Revolutionary Thanksgiving Recipe Extravaganza!

Preparing Four Pounds Flour “signature” apple tart.

The event yesterday at Old Stone House was a huge success: all the food was cooked and delicious!  We had a big turnout, thanks in part to some great press leading up to the event, including a listing on Grub Street, an article in the Village Voice and, my favorite, a wonderful feature on Brokelyn.  I’m going to be posting photos from the event photos soon!

Thanks to everyone who came out; also a big thanks to D’Artagnan for donating the wild turkey and the venison; and to Red Jacket Orchards who donated historic baking apples, the Newtown Pippin.

Many of those who attended requested my recipes, so I thought I’d share them with you here.  They are all incredibly simple and delicious, and perfect for your Thanksgiving table.

All three of these receipts were adapted from the first American cookbook, American Cookery by Amelia Simmons.  A hearth is not necessary to prepare them; you’ll do just fine in a modern kitchen.

Stuffing for a Turkey

This recipe makes enough for one stuffed bird. If you plan to serve it as a side; bake it in a casserole at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

1 loaf bread or cornbread
1 stick butter
1/4 lb salt pork or fat back; or 4 slices bacon.
2 eggs
1 tsp savory
1 tsp marjoram
1 handful fresh parsley, torn
10 leaves fresh sage, torn
1 tsp each Salt and pepper, or to taste.

1. Tear bread into small pieces and put in a large bowl.

2. Melt butter and pour over bread.

3. Finely chop pork and add it to the bread mixture.

4. Add remaining ingredients.  If the mixture seems too dry, add another egg.

5. Stuff into a turkey.

Squash Pudding

This recipe is a bit labor intensive.

2 small or one large squash. (I used 2 butternut squashes)
3 baking apples
Juice of 1/2 an orange
1/2 cup sugar
2 slices bread or 3 tablespoons unseasoned bread crumbs
1 cup cream
1 tablespoon rosewater
1/3 cup wine
3 eggs, beaten
1 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp salt
1 tablespoon flower

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Peel and core apples.  Slice into 1/2 in – 1 inch chunks.  Add orange juice to prevent apples from browning.  Add to a skillet with  1/4 cup sugar.  Cook on a high heat until apples bubble and steam; turn heat down to medium, and stew for 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.

3. Cut squash into quarters; peel and cut into one inch cubes.  Boil in a large stock pot, in lightly salted water, until tender.

4. Strain squash and add to a large mixing bowl. Mash to desired consistency with a potato masher, wine bottle, or other heavy implement.

5. Combine with remaining ingredients.

6. Bake from 45 minutes- 1 hour, until mixture is hot and bubbly around the edges.

Pumpkin Pie

2 cups pumpkin (canned or fresh)
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup real maple syrup (fresh pumpkin may need an additional 1/3 cup of maple sugar.)

1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon mace
1 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
2 eggs, well beaten
¼ cup brandy
1. Preheat oven to 325.  Combine pumpkin, sugar, maple syrup, salt and spices in a mixing bowl.
2. Beat together milk, eggs, cream and brandy.  Add to pumpkin mixture.
3. Pour into an unbaked pastry shell and bake for 1 hour.

Retronovated Recipes: 400 Years of Apple Pie

I believe apple pie is one of the greatest pleasures of the fall, second only to all things pumpkin flavored. Over the weekend, I baked three apple pies from three different centuries: the 17th, 18th and 21st. In each recipe, the flavours are so distinctive, so apropos of their respective time periods, that I’ve felt an unrelenting urge to make them at once and let my palette travel back through time.

I baked these pies with the assistance of my mother. I hope that through our experiment, you find inspiration for your own fall pies.

To Make the Basic Pie

In preparing these pies, I decided to keep the method for making the pie consistent, and let the flavorings be the variable. This approach is historically accurate: most old recipes are only a list of ingredients; after years in kitchen, cooks would already know how to prepare something as simple as a pie.

Use the crust recipe of your choice, or get a store bought crust. For the filling, use a mixture of softer apples that will break down with cooking, and firmer apples that will keep their shape. I used a combination of Ginger Gold, Gala, and Paula Red apples, about three pounds in total.

To prepare the filling, I followed Pam Anderson’s recipe from her book, The Perfect Recipe.

“Apple Filling: …Heat butter (1/2 stick) in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add apple slices, sugar and (spices) and when they start to sizzle and steam, reduce heat to low. Cover pan and simmer until apples soften and release their juices, about 8 minutes. Uncover, increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring frequently, until softer apples start to fall apart and juices thicken to thin syrup consistency, about 5 minutes longer…Refrigerate of set in a cool place until apples cool to room temperature.”

After the filling is cooled, fill the crust, and don’t forger to cut vents in the top. Brush the top crust with a half and half mixture of cream and egg yolk to get a nice golden brown color in the oven. Bake it for 15 minutes at 375, then 20-30 minutes at 350. The pie is done when the filling begins to bubble up through the crust.

1615: Pippin Pie
The oldest recipe in my pie time machine is from The English Housewife, published in 1615. I came across it in the book 1,000 Years Over a Hot Stove in a chapter on colonial cooking.
The Modern Recipe: The original recipe uses whole apples, whole cloves, chunks of orange peel, and shattered bits of cinnamon stick. In the 17th century, grinding spices would have been a laborious process, and not economical for making an everyday dessert. I updated the recipe by using ground spices and orange zest, which make the pie easier to ingest, while still maintaining the original recipe’s unique flavor profile. I cooked the chopped dates in with the apples; they began to disintegrate and thicken the sauce. A coffin, by the way, is the pie pastry.

3 lbs apples
1/2 tsp clove
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Zest of one orange
1 -1 1/2 cups dates
1/3 c sugar

The Results: While the pie was baking, the combination of spices made the house smell like Christmas. But when it came time to eat, the orange and clove made the pie taste exactly like a pomander. I think if I were in the 17th century I would have loved it, but nowadays I hate eating potpourri. On the contrary, my friend Sarah Tea loved this pie. It was her favorite of the three.

1796: Apple Rosewater Pie
This recipe is from the first American cookbook, American Cookery by Amelia Simmons.

The Modern Recipe: Mace is an extremely zesty spice and can over power a dish in a large quantities. Conversely, I added a hearty dose of rosewater, which adds a bright, cirtusy flavor instead of a perfumee one. A recipe appropriate to the 19th century can be made by substituting cinnamon with nutmeg.
3 lbs apples
1 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp mace
1 tsp rosewater
2/3 c sugar
The Results: My dad thought this pie tasted like Sara Lee, and this was my mother’s favorite. Despite it’s unconventional seasonings this pie tasted the most “normal.”
2006: Bob Evan’s Bourbon Apple Pie
This recipe comes from Amy Sedaris’ book “I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence.” I won’t include the entire recipe here, due to copyright issues. My recipe was inspired by hers, but stuck to my own methods.
The Modern Recipe:
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp nutmeg
2/3 cup sugar, divided.
1 cup bourbon.
Caramelize 1/3 cup sugar over a medium-low heat. When it is a little darker than the color of honey, remove from heat and slowly add the bourbon. Return to heat to dissolved the sugar, and reduce into “a thin sauce.” Stir into the apple pie filling after the filling has been cooked, but before it has cooled.
The Results: My mom loathed this pie and claimed “the taste was burning her tongue.” This pie was actually my favorite. The flavor seemed the most modern, and was the easiest for my pallet to accept. And I do love a glass of bourbon.
There you have it: Three pies. Three centuries. All apple pie in spirit, but all distinctly different.

Taste History Today: The Original Boston Cream Pie

The first Boston Cream Pie probably didn’t look like this one. But this Pie was purchased at the origin point of the Boston Cream Pie, the Parker House Hotel in Boston. If you are in town, swing by for Pie. But don’t eat there unless you like paying $60 for a terrible meal. My chicken was woefully overcooked, and my mom’s fried fish mournfully soggy. Even the famous Boston Cream Pie seems to have undergone some sort of morbid modernization. The Pie itself was good enough, but that was definitely redi-whip on the side.
You may be better off saving yourself the trip and baking The Pie from scratch using Parker House’s recipe.
A bit more on Boston Cream Pie from

Boston cream pie. A pie made of white cake and custard filling or topping. If chocolate icing is added, it is called “Parker House chocolate pie,” after the Parker House in Boston, Massachusetts, where the embellishment was first contrived. The pie goes back to early American history, when it was sometimes called “Pudding-cake pie,” or, when made with a raspberry jelly filling, “Mrs. Washington’s pie,” The first mention of the dessert as “Boston cream pie” was in the New York Herald in 1855.”

Although it was dubbed “Boston Cream Pie” in 1855, I don’t believe that it was The Pie as we know it. The chocolatey custard dessert has more of a late 19th c flavor profile. But I would say it warrants more research at a future date.

Apple Rosewater Tart

Ever been curious about the image at the top of this blog? It’s an apple-rosewater tart, a recipe that originally debuted during my thesis project. I recently received an email from one of my college professors that got me thinking about this recipe again. He said:
“I can’t seem to make an apple pie any more without using your Riesling wine and rosewater recipe. Actually, sometimes I use orangeblossom water, a suggestion of the Arabic grocery store where I get the rosewater.”
It tastes divine.
Apple Rosewater Tart
Based on American Cookery (1796) by Amelia Simmons
2 1/2 lbs. Apples,
2 tablespoon Rosewater
1 tsp. Cinnamon
2/3 cup Sugar
2/3 cup Riesling white wine
1 tbls. orange juice
1 tablespoon + 1tsp cornstarch

Crust recipe of your choice
1. Prepare crust
2. Slice apples and mix with sugar, cinnamon, orange juice and rosewater.
3. Melt butter in a large skillet. Add apples, wine and cornstarch. Saute until apples begin to sizzle, then about five minutes more. They will be just tender, but still fairly firm. Let cool.
4. Line tart pans with crust. Pour filling into crust.
5. Bake in an oven at 400 until crust edges are golden brown.