My favorite cookbook in my entire vintage cookbook collection (it’s not anything too impressive, but I’ve accumulated about 2 dozen at this point) is The Shaker Cookbook: Not by Bread Alone by Caroline B. Piercy. Here’s the thing about A LOT of vintage cookbooks: they weren’t edited that well. Sometimes you’ll find that the recipes haven’t been tested at all, leading to dismaying results. There’s also the paragraph format of recipes, which I don’t mind that much, but for the modern cook it demands quite a bit of translation. You basically get a block of vague instructions with general measurements, and sometimes the sassy concluding sentence of, “You should already know how to make this” (not kidding, that’s in one of them).
The Shaker Cookbook has been tested by generations of women in the Shaker community, the author’s mother, who collected most of these recipes in her recipe box, and the author herself. The recipes are simple and thorough, with all of the measurements laid out for the modern cook. My favorite thing about each recipe are their titles and the tidbits on life in the Shaker community. They always leave me wondering…
Like “Sister Amelia’s Strawberry Flummery.” To say it is like gossamer on your tongue. Ohio Lemon Pie struck me the same way. How did this Ohioan recipe make it’s way to Pennsylvania? What about it is distinctly Ohioan? There’s only three ingredients listed, could it be that special?
What I learned from this cookbook is that unlike other Anabaptist communities, which are known for their austere ways and strict minimalism (think Hester Prynne’s village in The Scarlett Letter), the Shakers were driven to create beauty. They believed, like other Anabaptists, that you worship God through your devotion to work, but here’s the wrinkle: your work should aspire to be like God’s, and you don’t have to look very far in creation to see that God’s work is beautiful, carefully crafted, and useful. So, a Shaker approaches a chair with the energy they would approach a pie: it must be useful, it must be made well, and it must be beautiful. You wont find any gilding in the aesthetic of the Shakers, because their craftsmanship doesn’t require anything. To them, simplicity and utility are beautiful.
So about this pie…
I’m pretty obsessed. I added a vanilla bean because why not? Fleshed out the instructions, and used my recipe for pie dough, but otherwise, it’s an authentic Shaker recipe.
The flavor in this pie is wonderful. The lemon peel provides a lovely bitterness that adds bite, and the texture is firm and perfectly sliceable. Imagine lemon marmalade, as a pie. It’s wonderful, and simple, and beautiful, and perfect. I’m not sure about it’s utility, but I certainly ate more than a few slices of it. I can’t wait to try this with blood oranges and limes.
2 medium lemons, very thinly sliced, seeds picked out
1 vanilla bean, scraped (or 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract)
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 recipe pie dough
In a medium bowl, combine the lemon slices, scraped vanilla seeds + pod, and sugar, and let them sit for at least 2 hours, or overnight. The sugar will dissolve into the lemon juice, and the vanilla will infuse into the whole thing. I also saved a few slices of lemon on the side for garnish in the center.
Pre heat oven to 450F.
Remove the vanilla pod, and combine the lemon mixture with the beaten eggs. You want to make sure the eggs are well beaten so there isn’t a pocket of yolk or whites.
For the pie dough, roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until about 1/8 inch thick. Lay it into a tart pan with a removable bottom (that’s what I used) or a pie plate. Finish the edges and pour the lemon mixture over the dough.
Place the pie in the center of the oven and bake at 450F for 15 minutes, then turn down to 325F and bake for another 45 minutes, or until the pie is set (firm on the outside, and lightly jiggling in the center). If the edges of the crust start to get too brown, cover the pie with aluminum foil and continue baking. Cool completely before slicing.