Oh, the last gasp of summer. Actually, we have been gasping here lately with the crazy heat and the air quality and the rising COVID numbers (and, thank goodness, a local return of mask mandates!). As I wind up revisions on Myrtle Hardcastle #4 while prepping for Kansas City’s Planet Comicon (come see me at table 2240!) in a couple weeks, this is a great time for pie.
Yes, pie. Stansberry pie, in fact!
Cook’s Christian name was Harriet Stansberry, although I’d never heard her called anything but Cook. I was six years old before I even realized she had another name. One of Father’s favorite dishes was something we called Stansberry Pie, and I once suffered a week of botanical confusion trying to classify the elusive stansberry, which did not appear in any field guide, taxonomy, or recipe book that I could find.
…It turned out to be a tart containing apple, strawberry, and rhubarb. It was rather good, particularly warm out of the oven, with cream.
As Myrtle discovers, Stansberry is not a fruit (unlike marionberry), but an old English surname with origins from the Yorkshire place name Stainsborough. (You might have run across the more common spelling of Stansbury—which, sadly, has no pie.) Stansberry also happens to be my mother-in-law’s maiden name (Hi, Judy!)… and for this Myrtle Mondays post, I’m sharing a variation on a family pie recipe, adapted, refined, and reverse-engineered from its fictional counterpart by my husband, C.J.
Myrtle notes that the Stansberry Pie of Premeditated Myrtle is in fact a tart—which generally means it only has a bottom crust. But what is the point of that? In my considered opinion, fruit pie is a thinly-veiled excuse for indulging in pie crust, so double up on that pastry!
…But first, let’s talk about pie. In particular, Victorian pies. Or, to be precise, where the Victorians got their pie recipes. The undisputed 19th century authority on all things cookery was Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management by Isabella Beeton, who was married to the publisher of The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine. Released in 1861, it became enormously popular, with new editions revised and updated well into the 20th century. It remains in print today! At 25, Beeton herself was an inexperienced household manager and drew largely from other sources including the magazine, but that did not stop her from serving up her reassuring guidance to the rapidly-growing population of her fellow middle-class housewives. Her most lasting contribution to cookery might be standardizing the modern recipe format of listing the ingredients first, followed by the instructions, even if some of her chapter titles seem odd to a 21st century reader (“General Observations on Quadrupeds”).
In nearly 1200 pages, Beeton’s covers everything a modern 19th century housewife needed to know, from how to manage servants, make antidotes for common poisons, to… well, let’s just let the subtitle tell you:
Mrs. Beeton offers nearly three dozen recipes for pie, both savory (like eel pie and, um, parrot pie) and sweet, such as the recipe for apple tart below. You’ll see from her illustrations that Beeton did not necessarily agree with the accepted bottom-crust-only definition of a tart, and for that we must commend her. (Also, don’t apricot fritters sound delicious?)
Enough history! Let’s get cooking.
Developed & Transcribed by C.J. Bunce
“a tart containing apple, strawberry, and rhubarb”
This recipe is for a full pie (double crust) but it can be adapted to single tarts if desired. Kids (with parents’ help) and kids of all ages, give it a try and let us know what you think!
1 or 2 pie crusts (suggest traditional oil recipe below)
1 ¼ cup sugar
5 TBS flour
¼ tsp salt
Dash of orange rind*
½ tsp cinnamon**
¼ tsp nutmeg***
1 cup chopped rhubarb
1 cup sliced mixed apples (like Granny Smith or Jonathan mixed with Red Delicious)
2 cups sliced strawberries
1 capful of lemon juice
1 TBS butter/oleomargarine
One discontented and uncooperative hob (oven)
- Mix dry ingredients, sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
- Mix in fruit, rhubarb, apples, and strawberries.
- Pour mix into bottom crust. Use second crust to make lattice top. Dot on crisscrosses with butter cut into 1/3-inch cubes.
- Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes with aluminum foil loose cover.
- Remove foil and decrease to 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
* (more or less)
** (use a lot more)
*** (not more than that)
Traditional Oil Crust
2 ½ cups flour
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup olive oil
6 TBS ice cold water
Add oil to dry flour and salt, stir with fork, make two balls of dough, refrigerate for 15 minutes. Roll or press out on oil-sprayed pie dish. Bake 15 minutes at 350 degrees.
Top your finished pie with cream, whipped cream, ice cream, or what-have-you (or nothing), and enjoy while reading a great book!
Mrs. Beeton’s Apple Tart
(with original spelling, punctuation, and formatting!)
APPLE TART OR PIE
- Ingredients.—-Puff-paste No. 1205 or 120G, apples; to every 1 1b. of unpared apples allow 2 oz. of moist sugar, 1 teaspoonful of finely-minced lemon-peel, 1 tablespoonful of lemon-juice.
Mode,—Make 1 lb. of puff-paste by either of the above-named recipes, place a border of it round the edge of a pie-dish,’and fill it with apples pared, cored, and cut into slices; sweeten with moist sugar, add the lemon-peel and juice, and 2 or 3 tablespoonfuls of water ; cover with crust, cut it evenly round close to the edge of the pie-dish, and bake in a hot oven from 1/2 to ¾ hour, or rather longer, should the pie be very large.
When it is three-parts done, take it out of the oven, put the white of an egg on a plate, and, with the blade of a knife, whisk it to a froth ; brush the pie over with this, then sprinkle upon it some sifted sugar, and then a few drops of water. Put the pie back into the oven, and finish baking, and be particularly careful that it does not catch or burn, which it is very liable to do after the crust is iced. If made with a plain crust, the icing may be omitted.
Time.—1/2 hour before the crust is iced; 10 to 15 minutes afterwards.
Average cost 9d (ninepence)
Sufficient.—Allow 2 lbs. of apples for a tart for 6 persons.
Seasonable from August to March ; but the apples become flavourless after February.
Note.—Many things are suggested for the flavouring of apple pie ; some say 2 or 3 tablespoonfuls of beer, others the same quantity of sherry, which very much improve the taste ; whilst the old-fashioned addition of a few cloves is, by many persons, preferred to anything else, as also a few slices of quince.
(Mrs. Beeton kindly provided the following additional information on quinces and their potential hazards.)
Let me know if you try either of these recipes!