Historic Apple Pie for Thanksgiving

As surely as Thanksgiving comes on the fourth Thursday of November, during the run up to the holiday food historians like me get their fifteen minutes of fame, usually in two minute radio or TV segments or by being widely quoted in some newspaper or other. Something about the historic origins of the day prompts questions about who invented mashed potatoes (answer: who knows?), why do we eat turkey? (answer: too complicated for this space, but I’d be happy to explain next time you see me. Just ask.)

In my long career, I’ve actually cooked several Thanksgivings on an open hearth in both a museum and in a private home. It’s not as hard to do as you might think. And forty years ago, when I first became interested in the holiday’s food history, I bumped into this lovely version of apple pie which I will take to our friends’ house on Thursday when Toby and I join them for dinner.

Marlborough Pudding is baked in a pastry-lined pan, so it qualifies as pie in my book. I love the combination of lemon, cream, and sherry, which always tastes like the Eighteenth Century to me. Some early versions of the recipe call for rosewater, which was also very popular in the 1700s and early 1800s but which I still don’t enjoy, because it reminds me too much of shampoo in my food.

Be sure to use unsweetened applesauce, perhaps homemade if you are up for it. Otherwise it’ll make your teeth ache. You can get away with all-purpose cream, though heavy is better. Then, in the department of Gilding the Lily, you can also serve it with whipped cream on top.

P.S. I was delighted that several of you made it to Damariscotta and Maine Coast Book Shop for my talk and signing Maine Home Cooking last Saturday. What a fun time. Next up, December 1, at noon, Rooster Brother in Ellsworth. Dot Meade in Bar Harbor says she’ll be there! Why don’t you join us?

Marlborough Pudding Pie
½ cup sugar
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, melted
4 large eggs, well beaten
½ cup heavy cream
1 lemon
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
½ cup sweet or cream sherry
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg (or to taste)
1 unbaked 9” pie crust

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix well the sugar and butter, then beat in the eggs and the cream. Grate lemon zest (just the yellow part) into the sugar, butter, cream, and eggs, and then squeeze in the juice, straining out the seeds. Add the applesauce, sherry and nutmeg, and pour into a pastry-lined pie plate. Bake about an hour until the filling is set. You can test with a knife or jiggle the plate to see if the center is firm. Cool and serve with whipped cream.

Makes one nine-inch pie.

Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.