This recipe, which can be used for either peach or apple pies, comes from Lettice Bryan’s The Kentucky Housewife, published in 1839. Along with Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife (1824) and Sarah Rutledge’s The Carolina Housewife (1847), The Kentucky Housewife is known as one of the three “southern housewife” cookbooks. These three books are often considered the earliest American regional cookbooks; although they include a variety of recipes, there is a strong focus on “classical” southern cooking.
Like many other cookbooks published at the time, many of Mrs. Bryan’s recipes are fairly vague when it comes to quantities, temperatures, and cooking times. Although she does give measurements for the flour and butter in the pie crust, when it comes to the fruit filling there are no measurements given beyond “some” and “a very little.” The rest is left up to the cook to figure out.
Peach Pie (no measurements are given in the recipe, but these are the amounts I used):
- 6 cups peaches
- about 1/4 cup water, depending on how juicy your peaches are
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 1/8 tsp cloves
- 1/2 tbsp butter
- Prepare enough pie crust for both a top and bottom crust, using whatever recipe you prefer. I used Mrs. Bryan’s recipe for “plain paste,” given on page 259 of her book. It’s essentially a recipe for rough puff pastry, and although it did work, it was rather labor intensive and ended up tasting pretty much just like regular pie crust. If I make this again, I will definitely just use a basic pie crust recipe instead.
- Peel the peaches, remove the pits, and slice them into roughly equal slices.
- Put the peaches in a saucepan with the rest of the ingredients and cook over medium heat until the peaches are soft.
- At this point, there will probably be a lot of liquid in your pan. Most modern recipes would tell you to thicken this with cornstarch or flour, then add everything to the pie; Mrs. Bryan doesn’t really say what to do. I ended up scooping out the solid peaches and leaving most of the liquid behind so I wouldn’t have a runny pie. However, this did seem like a waste of delicious peach-y syrup (although I did use it as an ice cream topping later). This recipe has fairly vague instructions, so it’s possible Mrs. Bryan intended for her readers to thicken the filling, probably with flour, and assumed that they would know to do this. Or, you could also try cooking the filling for even longer over higher heat to evaporate some of the liquid. Probably any of these options would work; sometimes you do just have to guess with historic recipes!
- Line the bottom of a pie dish with pastry, fill it with the peach filling, top with another piece of pastry and crimp the edges (most historic pie recipes I’ve seen don’t include an egg wash, probably because eggs were expensive, but of course you could put one on if you want).
- Bake at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes.
- Sprinkle the warm pie with granulated sugar, then let it cool before slicing it.
- Serve with milk and honey, as Mrs. Bryan suggests…or with ice cream, like I did.
I think it’s practically impossible for a peach pie to taste bad, and this one is no exception. If I were making this my own way, I would probably just use fresh peaches instead of cooking them, and I would definitely add some cinnamon and lemon juice along with the nutmeg and cloves – but those are just a few minor tweaks to suit my taste.
I did enjoy trying to figure out Mrs. Bryan’s vague instructions (no measurements or ratios of any kind!), and finding out that people have been making peach (or apple) pies pretty much the same way for nearly 200 years. Fruit plus sugar plus a few spices is essentially the perfect recipe for pie, and has been for a long time.
Bryan, L. (1839). The Kentucky housewife. Cincinnati: Shepard & Stearns. https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Kentucky_Housewife/RERv9slqYUsC?hl=en&gbpv=1
Van Willigen, J. (2014). Kentucky’s cookbook heritage: Two hundred years of Southern cuisine and culture. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky.