March 14, 2013

Pi Day and Historic Pie Recipes

Happy Pi Day! Here at the Historical Society, we celebrated with a pie baking contest using historic recipes.

Judges hard at work sampling pies
Librarian Zoe Ann Stoltz won the contest with a rhubarb pie that struck the perfect balance between sweet and tart wrapped in a flaky crust. We interviewed her to find out her secret.

Contest winner Zoe Ann Stoltz (center) and runners-up Molly Krukenberg (left) and Sarah Nucci (right) hold up the historic cookbooks they used to bake their winning pies.
Why did you choose the recipe you did?
Zoe Ann: Because rhubarb evokes spring in Montana. I looked for the simplest rhubarb pie recipe I could find.

What do you look for when you choose a historic recipe?
Zoe Ann: I look for something I like to eat!

How do historic recipes differ from modern ones?
Zoe Ann: That depends on how old the recipe is. The earliest recipes in our collection were published in newspapers dating back to the 1870s. Our oldest cookbook was published in 1881. These recipes assume that the reader already knows how to cook and offer only general guidelines—for example, instructing the reader to use a hot oven or a medium hot oven. They also use different measurements—a teacupful meant 6 oz, not the 8 oz of our standard cupful today.

What can historic recipes teach us?
Zoe Ann: There are few historical topics that we can say everyone has participated in, but eating is one. Recipes teach us about cultural, ethnic, social, and community history—I could go on for hours!

Zoe Ann’s winning recipe came from Cookery of the Prairie Homesteader by Louise K. Nickey, who grew up on a homestead in eastern Montana. You can find that recipe book and many more in our research library.