Friday, August 4, 2017

Book Review: Complete Pie Cookbook

Title: Farm Journal's Complete Pie Cookbook

Editor: Nell B. Nichols

Date: 1965

Publisher: Doubleday

ISBN: none

Length: 291 pages plus 14-page index

Illustrations: several full-color photos

Quote: “Pie...appeared on New world tables...before the Stars and Stripes flew from a flagpole...early pies had more crust than filling.”

Almost anything can be baked on or between crusts of pastry or bread. In England, at one time, the rule was that “pie” normally meant a savory pie or turnover (with meat and veg); the sweet ones were tarts. In the U.S. “pie” normally meant a dessert, usually fruit-based, baked in an 8” to 10” pan, and the smaller ones were tarts (that's the distinction between “pie” and “tart” recipes in this book). Turnovers, also known as fried pies or pasties, are also discussed in this book.

What's not discussed: gluten-free recipes. Both the word “pie” and the dish it means are normally defined by a casing of wheat-based pastry around a usually juicy and semiliquid filling. Wheat gluten is what makes the casing hold together. Gluten-free people can of course eat sweet pie fillings without crusts, or with gluten-free crumb crusts, and savory pie fillings with crusts of mashed potato or crumbled chips. (Mixing cheese into baked potatoes yields...a nutritional disaster, very hard on anybody's bowels, but gluten-free and relatively cohesive.) There are several naturally gluten-free and delicious recipes in the Complete Pie Cookbook, if you just make the fillings and ignore the crusts; but the results of this innovation, however delicious, are not technically pie.

In 1965 awareness of food sensitivities was extremely low. At least a few recipes in this book are naturally “free” from anything one wants to avoid eating, including sugar (some are savory), but that's by accident not design. If you've conditioned yourself to insert modifiers like “soy” before “milk” or “turkey” before “bacon,” you'll probably get interestingly mixed results with these recipes. In 1965 chiffon pies, featuring raw egg (or at least raw egg whites), were very trendy, and after all they frequently didn't contain salmonella. Many of the recipes Farm Journal readers shared are naturally quite “healthy” if made with fresh organic produce, but this is anything but a book of “health food.” No granola here; very rarely does anyone try to reduce the fat or sugar content of anything.

Out of 700 pie recipes, however, it would be hard not to find some you can use, so this book is still a bargain. It was popular enough in its day that, although it's not in Amazon's penny-a-copy section, it's not reached serious-collector-only prices yet. $5 per book + $5 per package + $1 per online payment, as usual; four books of this size will fit into one $5 package.

Search engines don't pull up an obituary for Nell B. Nichols, nor do they indicate that she's ever had any online presence. If she is still living she'll be hard to find. I don't expect this one to be a Fair Trade Book but, if you buy it here, I will make an effort to find out what's become of the author.