According to online resource The Encyclopedia of Food and Culture, funeral pie is a classic in Pennsylvania Dutch cooking, which — especially in Amish country — relies on locally available and/or shelf-stable, preserved foods through the winter months. Raisins become the main ingredient, and the dessert’s odd name derives from its convenience. A neighbor has died, and you want to bring the traditional form of solace — fresh baked goods — to the grieving family. No fresh fruit? No problem. Whip up a funeral pie, and you’ll have slices of sweetness to share in a crisis, regardless of season.
With all due respect to the dead, and to ideals of pioneer self-sufficiency, the Halloween potential here is obvious. At seasonal spookfest dinner parties, fans of the macabre graze on mashed potatoes molded to look like brains, sip fizzy-blooded punch, and nosh on black-food-colored “bat wings” tasting of chicken. In this social settings, a well-decorated funeral pie might be the pièce de résistance. Raisins are tasty, but the unscrupulous chef of a ghoulish meal could play up their resemblance to plump, swollen bugs.
This recipe dates from 1936 and is a masterpiece. The latticework top is key; it allows enough water to escape in the oven for the custard to set.
Get fancy with your pastry cutouts and tart up your funeral pies with bats, spiders, gravestones, skulls or creepy faces.
Basic Pie Dough
From The Joy of Cooking (first Plume printing, November 1997), p. 640. This recipe will make enough pie dough for a double-crust, 9-inch pie.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
Measure and combine:
2/3 cup chilled shortening (I used canola-oil shortening)
2 tablespoons chilled butter
Cut half of the shortening into the flour mixture with a pastry blender, or work it in lightly with the tips of your fingers until it has the grain of cornmeal. Cut the remaining half coarsely into the dough until it forms pea-sized balls. Sprinkle the dough with 4 tablespoons ice-cold water. Blend the water lightly into the dough. You may lift the ingredients with a fork, allowing the moisture to spread. If needed to hold the ingredients together, add 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon water. When you can gather the dough up into a tidy ball, stop handling it. Divide it in half and roll out the crusts.
From The Pennsylvania Dutch Cook Book — Fine Old Recipes (Culinary Arts Press, 1936)
Pastry for two-crust pie (recipe above)
1 cup raisins
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 tablespoons flour
1 egg, well beaten
2 tablespoons lemon rind, grated
1 lemon, juice of
1/4 teaspoon salt
Wash raisins and soak in cold water for three hours. [Note: Skip this step if your raisins are already soft.] Drain. Combine the 2 cups water, the raisins, sugar and flour that have been mixed together, salt, lemon rind and juice, and the egg. Mix thoroughly and cook over hot water (in a double boiler) for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool. Pour into pastry-lined pan. Cover with narrow strips of crisscrossed dough. Bake at 450 degrees F for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and bake 30 minutes. Cool before cutting.
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