“The pie is an English institution, which, planted on American soil, … burst forth into an untold variety of genera and species. …” — Harriet Beecher Stowe, excerpt from “Oldtown Folks” GETTY IMAGES

Serve up a slice of summer: Downeast Pie



Special to The Ellsworth American

Every November I try at least one new type of pie. This year I attempted mock cherry pie — a dessert that was popular at the end of the 1800s but disappeared in the early 1900s. 

I believe the pie lost favor when canned sour cherries became available year-round. Because of recent supply disruptions, pie cherries have vanished from local supermarket shelves, so I decided to try this vintage substitute. 

Sometimes called Downeast Pie, recipes for this dish have always looked mysterious to me because the volume of ingredients seems too skimpy to fill a pie shell and too liquid to provide nice slices. A typical recipe calls for a mere cup of cranberries, ½ to 1 cup of raisins, sugar and water with just a tablespoon or “a sprinkling” of flour. 

The detail that makes this pie work is that the cranberries must be chopped. That releases the pectin inside the berries that binds with water and helps the pie filling to gel. The raisins plump up with water and add volume.

Foods baked in pastry were known in Europe long before the colonial era. Mincemeat pie and apple pie came to us directly from Britain. 

However, in the Old World, meat pies were much more common than sweet pies. Americans were quick to adapt the pie concept to native and cultivated fruits, and no one consumed more sweet pies than New Englanders. 

As Harriet Beecher Stowe observed in her novel “Oldtown Folks,” “the pie is an English institution, which, planted on American soil, … burst forth into an untold variety of genera and species. … A thousand strictly American seedlings from that main stock, evinced the power of American housewives to adapt old institutions to new uses. Pumpkin pies, cranberry pies, huckleberry pies, cherry pies, green-currant pies, peach, pear and plum pies, custard pies, apple pies, Marlborough-pudding pies … attested the boundless fertility of the feminine mind.”

The following recipe is from Elizabeth W. Ide of Newcastle, who contributed it to a community cookbook put out by the ladies of Trinity Church in Claremont, N.H., in 1899. The mock cherry pie filling makes a festive-looking, crimson pie with a sweet-tart flavor that suggests pie cherries.

Downeast Pie

Pastry for one-crust pie

1¼ cup cranberries, washed and allowed to dry 

1 cup sugar

1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour 

½ cup boiling water

1 cup raisins

1 Tbsp. unsalted butter cut into small pieces

Roll out the pie dough, fit it to a 9-inch pie pan, trim the dough to 1 inch from the pie plate edge, fold under the edge and crimp it. Chill the pastry at least 1 hour before you fill it.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. 

Mix the sugar and flour in a large bowl. Process the cranberries in a food processor with four or five pulses or chop them in half with a knife and stir them into the sugar mixture. Add the boiling water and raisins and stir. Let the mixture rest for 15 minutes. Stir, then pour the filling mixture into the pie shell and dot with butter.

Bake at 375 degrees F for 30 minutes. Rotate pie, reduce oven temp to 350 degrees F and bake an additional 30 to 45 minutes until juices are bubbling and crust is golden brown.