Posted on

‘Birds’ assist with easy-as-pie recipes

‘Birds’ assist with easy-as-pie recipes
‘Birds’ assist with easy-as-pie recipes
Suetta Tingler

“Sing a song of six pence, a pocket full of rye, four and twenty black birds baked in a pie. When the pie was opened, the birds began to sing.” Wait a second. Have you ever wondered how birds baked in a pie could survive? Actually, an Italian cookbook from the year 1549 provides the answer for pulling off such a feat which was a common form of entertainment in the day. But, I’ll save that for another day.

Today, the closest thing to baking a bird in a pie comes in the form of a hollow, ceramic device shaped like a bird with an open beak. A pie bird, pie chimney, pie funnel or a pie whistle are all names for a kind of steam vent that originated in Europe and has been in use since Victorian days. It is believed to have first been used by bakers in England and Ireland making meat pies, once a frequent task.

I don’t know a cook who enjoys dealing with the messy clean-up when sticky fruit fillings bubble up and out of a pie only to land on the floor of the oven. The purpose of using a pie bird is to avoid such necessary clean-ups by allowing built-up steam to escape through the bird’s beak. Pie birds are intended for use only in double or two-crust pies. A pie bird also supports the upper crust from sagging in the middle as well as eliminates the need to pre-bake crust in order to prevent a soggy pie bottom. Chiffon, cream and single-crust filled pies do not need the assist of any steam vent.

A pie bird is easy to use. First, lay the lower crust of a pie in a pie plate. Place a pie bird in its middle and spoon filling around the ceramic tool. Cut an “X” in the top center of the upper crust. Cover the filled pie with the upper crust, being sure to allow the pie bird to poke through the “X” (it’s OK if the crust touches the bird during baking). Follow normal baking times. Once baked, it’s best not to remove the bird from the pie but to cut and serve around it. Some pie birds may even whistle, letting you know the pie is baked and ready to be removed from the oven, but it’s best to use your own instincts about doneness.

While there was a surge in pie birds as they became coveted as valuable collectible items as well as popular gifts, the heyday for the tiny, adorable critters in both Europe and the United States was before the 1970s. Today, pie birds remain a bit obscure other than to the serious pie baker, but, as with most things, their popularity is on the return. Most of all, know a pie bird really does work.

Tips and hints:

If you don’t have a pie bird and want to prevent messy clean ups, cut 4 to 5 slits about 2 inches each in length in the top crust of a pie before baking.

Custard-style pies are done when they jiggle slightly in the middle. Fruit pies are done when the pastry is golden, juices bubble and the fruit is tender.

Bake pies in the lower third of the oven to ensure the bottom crust gets done.

The term “upper crust” implies “above the rest”; alludes to a higher social class since they could afford a double or two-crust pie.

The American Pie Council ranks America’s top favorite pies in popularity as apple, pumpkin, anything chocolate, lemon meringue and cherry.

Give these “easy as pie” recipes a second look.

This first one’s name may sound depressing, but raisins used to be very expensive so they were used sparingly and only for special occasions. A funeral was one of the most common events when this pie would be served as a display of respect.


1 (9-inch) double crust, unbaked

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

3 tablespoons flour

2 cups water

3 tablespoons lemon juice

2 cups raisins

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon butter

In a saucepan, stir together sugar and flour. Add water and lemon juice; mix well. Stir in raisins, salt and cinnamon. Cook and stir over medium heat until bubbly. Cook and stir 1 minute more. Remove from heat and stir in butter. Pour into a pastry-lined pie plate. Top with lattice crust or cover with top crust and cut slits or use pie bird for steam to escape. Bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes or until crust is golden brown.

Don’t misplace this recipe; the fall grape harvest will be coming.


1 (9-inch) double crust

3 cups Concord blue grapes

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1-1/2 cups sugar

3 tablespoons flour

Dash of salt

To make filling: wash grapes, slip off grape skins from pulp and reserve in a bowl. Cook pulp with lemon juice until you see seeds separating from the pulp (about 10 minutes). Put pulp mixture through sieve or use a food mill to remove seeds. Discard seeds. Put grape pulp and skins together in a saucepan and simmer until skins soften and color comes out (about 15 minutes). Stir sugar, flour and salt together; mix well before stirring into grape mixture. Pour into pastry-lined pie plate. Top with second crust, cut slits and bake for 10 minutes in a preheated 450-degree oven. Reduce oven to 350 degrees; bake for another 20 minutes or until upper crust is golden brown.

No pie bird is needed when baking these favorites.

In the past, when a fresh pineapple box was ordered from Harry and David catalog, this recipe would be enclosed. Makes a great spring dessert.


1 (9-inch) single crust, baked and cooled

1 cup fresh pineapple finely chopped with juice

1 (5- or 6-ounce) package instant vanilla pudding or pie filling mix

2 cups sour cream

3 tablespoons sugar

Combine pineapple with juice, pudding mix, sour cream and sugar in a mixing bowl. Beat slowly with mixer at lowest speed for 1 minute. Pour into pie shell and chill for 3 hours. Garnish with whipped topping, additional pieces of pineapple and maraschino cherries.

Here’s a diner-style pie.


(“Me, Myself and Pie” cookbook)

1 (9-inch) baked pastry pie crust

2-1/2 cups milk, divided

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

Dash of salt

3 large egg yolks

For crumbs:

1-1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

1/2 cup peanut butter

Whipped topping

Bring 2 cups of milk to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. In a bowl, mix sugar, cornstarch and salt together. Stir in 1/2 cup milk, add egg yolks and mix well. Stir cornstarch mixture into the boiling milk. Bring back to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and cool. To make crumbs, mix together confectioners’ sugar and peanut butter until crumbly. Reserve 1/3 of the crumbs for the top of the pie. Put remaining crumbs in the bottom of the baked pie crust. Pour the cooled filling on top of crumbs. Cover with whipped topping; sprinkle remaining crumbs on top.