NOW comes an unexpected letter from a lady in Vermont who chides me with good-humored asperity because I have never penned a paean for the boiled cider pie. Meantime, I have been sitting here patiently waiting to receive the Nobel Peace Prize because I have refrained from making everybody mad with a boiled cider pie recipe. But as a consequence of our small correspondence, this lady in Vermont has done a remarkable thing, which needs reporting. I dare say that in all the long history of culinary capers, nobody has ever before done anything just like what it is this here lady in Vermont has just done.
When she wrote, I responded wittily by asking her what a boiled cider pie has in it. Served her right, I thought. However, I'm no stranger to boiled cider, but it's much like hearing a Brahms tune on a bass tuba -- you can take it but you don't have to like it.
Boiled cider belongs to the old days on the farm when almost everything was scarce and expensive. New apple cider was cooked down -- evaporated -- until it had the consistency of a good Barbados molasses. It was used to sweeten and flavor, and the alternative was to do without.
Here in Maine we were never a charged-up boiled cider people, and one reason was the endemic sugar pie that tasted just as bad as a boiled cider pie but didn't require the long job of boiling down cider.
In Vermont, boiling cider was made easier by the general ownership of sugaring-off pans. When maple syrup is ready, it is drawn from the evaporator, and if maple sugar is wanted, further processing is done in a sugaring-off pan over another fire. It was easy for Vermonters to get the sugaring-off pan out in cider time and make enough boiled cider to last the kitchen a year. The stuff keeps forever if handled right, worse luck.
The Maine sugar pie is a refinement (he says) of the standard Quebec Sugar Pie, which infiltrated in the early lumbering days when Canadians came down to be ``Canucks'' in the Maine timberland harvests. Made one or two at a time for Canadian families, the sugar pie was now made by the hundreds for lumber camp crews, and the cooks tried to bring them up from their dreary beginnings to a new nadir of perfection.
Rosie's sugar pie was an ``open'' variety -- no top cover. Rosie, who was cook for years at Joe Dupreau's camp at Custcook Stream, said if she left the top off 24 pies she could make another 24 pies in the same time, and three days a week she proved it. I sent the recipe for Rosie's Sugar Pie to the lady in Vermont: Rosie's Sugar Pie 1/2 teaspoon soda 1/4 teaspoon vanilla 1/2 cup maple syrup 1 cup flour 1 cup dark brown sugar Pinch nutmeg 1/3 cup butter
Stir soda and vanilla into syrup and pour into pastry in pie pan. Blend other ingredients with fingertips until crumbly and spread over syrup. Place foil under pan. Bake 30 minutes at 350 F.
In retaliation, the lady in Vermont then sent me her recipe for a boiled cider pie: Boiled Cider Pie Beat one egg (two if small) Add melted butter size of egg 1 cup water 3 or 4 tablespoons boiled cider 1 huge tablespoon flour for thickening 1 cup sugar Pinch salt Vanilla
Mix well together, cook on top of stove and stir as it cooks. Make crust for double pie. When mixture is thick, pour into pie crust, top with second crust, and bake 350 F. until it's done.
At this, I thought our tilt was a draw, and the less said the better. Rosie's pies can be justified on the utilitarian grounds that they offered quick energy to strong men who were laboring all day long with axes and bucksaws.
Otherwise, a sugar pie is merely an oddity deriving from kitchen desperation when acceptable pie filling is lacking. The boiled cider pie derived from the same kind of desperation but was not excused for the same pep-'em-up reason.
So what happened is momentous enough to merit space in the paper. The lady in Vermont, proclaiming the virtue of her boilded cider pie, has dallied most perversely with Rosie's sugar pie. She writes, ``It was very good, but in place of dark brown sugar I used boiled cider.''
So, I say, if boiled cider will make one of Rosie's sugar pies ``very good,'' I'm all for boiled cider, and sweet are the uses of such perversity.