1921 Description of High-Quality Pie Crusts

Slice of Lemon Apple Pie

Here’s how a 1921 home economics textbook describes a high-quality pie:

A pie should have a light, flaky, tender crust that is thoroughly baked. Pie crust must be chewed thoroughly, since even the best is hard to digest. It is easier to make tender pie crust from pastry flour because that contains less gluten and more starch than bread flour. Bread flour may be used, however. Many kinds of fat are used in pie crust, such as lard, butter, vegetable fats and oils. Fat make the crust “short” and flaky, and is often called “shortening.” The crust is made tender by careful handling, and by folding and rolling several times so that air is folded into the dough. This air, and the steam formed from the water used in the mixture, expand the dough during baking and make the pie crust light.

Elementary Home Economics (1921) by Mary Lockwood Matthews

24 thoughts on “1921 Description of High-Quality Pie Crusts

  1. I’ve never heard the advice about ‘folding and rolling several times.’ My mother, my grandmother, and my home ec teacher all were adamant that the less handling, the better. Now, a puff pastry’s different, but pie crust needs a good shortening (we used lard, although later even Grandma made the move to Crisco) and a delicate touch.

    1. I also thought that the directions to fold and roll several times didn’t seem quite right. Like you, I’d always heard that when making pastry, the less handling the better.

  2. The art of pie crusts has been mostly lost. My best friend always makes hers in large batches and then freezes it so that she can have it ready at a moment’s notice. As does my SIL… Those crusts are beautiful and delicious!

    1. I still make pie crusts – and actually really enjoy making them. My mother-in-law used to make absolutely beautiful crusts that were perfectly crimped, and I’ve always aspired to make crusts as good as hers – though I haven’t yet quit met that goal yet. . . . But maybe someday.

    1. I also found that interesting. Until a read the old book, I thought that lard (or maybe fat – as in chicken fat) referred to an animal-based product and shortening to a vegetable-based one.

  3. I was just at the Crisco on line site yesterday. I have a large can of shortening that I need to use up and wanted some ideas. When I have time I like to make my own pie crust in the food processor. I haven’t heard the term pastry flour in a long time. Today we just call it all purpose. Thanks for your research.

    1. A lot of old recipes call for pastry flour. I used to be able to find it at the store, but I haven’t seen it in several years and now use all-purpose flour for everything (except when making bread).

  4. Ah, the elusive flaky pie crust. Two friends of mine did a pie pastry bake-off. One used lard and the other used Crisco – it won, hands down. Then there are the people who use nothing but butter.
    I just let other people do the baking.

    1. Each type of crust – lard, Crisco, butter – tastes a little different from the others. I like them all, but can distinguish between them when I eat a piece of pie.

  5. This is pie season, so your post is timely. I prepared a pumpkin pie yesterday, because it is daughter Lise’s favorite. She arrived from Denmark yesterday, and the family devoured half the pie by bedtime. The only time I re-roll pie dough is if I’ve torn it before getting it into the pie plate. I think humidity has more to do with the success of my crusts than anything else. Thanks for giving us the 100-year old advice. Tonight I’m gonna tell everyone they have to chew the pie crust well. That should make them slow down and really taste the pumpkin.

    1. The sentence about chewing the pie crust well made me smile. I had never thought of pie crusts as a difficult to chew or digest food. Have a wonderful time with your family!

    1. You’re lucky that you can still find pastry flour. There are some King Arthur flours at the store where I usually shop, but they don’t stock the pastry flour. It’s interesting how different types of flour have different percentages of gluten.

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