VINEGAR PIE WITH HONEY VINEGAR. PHOTO PROVIDED BY LINDERA FARMS.
Tart and sweet, this Honey Vinegar Pie would have made my great-grandma beg for seconds.
Vinegar is versatile. I learned this growing up in my aunt Linda’s kitchen, where a gallon jug of Heinz distilled white vinegar came in handy for pickling veggies, making salad dressings, cleaning the floor, and even taking the sting out of bug bites. Aunt Linda also used a few glugs of the pungent elixir to make pie.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Vinegar? In pie? That’s disgusting. I used to think so, too.
But when I finally mustered up the courage to take a bite, my five-year-old palate was pleasantly surprised. The sugary treat didn’t taste like vinegar one bit. Instead, it was buttery and sweet with a quip of citrusy tartness and a silky-smooth texture. Imagine if cheesecake and lemon pie fell in love, exchanged vows at the Baptist church, and had a delicious little baby. Yum.
Some of my fondest memories are sitting at the family dinner table — the one my granddaddy made from Western North Carolina walnut — and eating a big slice of vinegar pie with a glass of cold milk. During those lazy afternoons, aunt Linda would tell me the story of how my great-grandmother invented the recipe back in 1929, just weeks after the stock market crashed and she was fired from the hosiery mill.
Hankering for dessert, my great-grandma (a spitfire of a Scots-Irish woman everyone called “Mudder”) peered into her bleak pantry and took stock. She had a sack of flour, some sugar and salt, half a dozen eggs, a few dollops of butter, and a swig of vinegar.
“I can make that work,” I imagine she said, hiking up her skirt and gathering the ingredients into her arms.
She then proceeded to make a basic pie crust and egg-based filling, adding vinegar to the custard in lieu of citrus to cut its sweetness. And so, vinegar pie was born.
Or, at least, that is what I was told.
MIGHTY FINE APPALACHIAN INGREDIENTS
As an adult, I now know that vinegar pie can’t be credited to Mudder. In fact, none of our Southern Appalachian ancestors deserve such credit.
According to my research, the first vinegar pie recipe was espoused by an Ohio-based publisher in 1855. Thirty-five years later, a rural Arkansas woman by the name of Nannie Stillwell Jackson ranted and raved about vinegar pie in her personal diary, later to be shared with the world in a book called “Vinegar Pie and Chicken Bread.” Then, some 40 years after that, Wisconsin’s Laura Ingalls Wilder waxed poetic about the festive dessert in “Little House in the Big Woods.”
Long story short, vinegar pie isn’t a child of the South per se. However, food folklorists believe it became trendy among Southern Appalachian folk during the Great Depression when people like my great-grandma were forced to work with limited rations. Because of this, vinegar pie is often categorized as a “desperation pie.”
But don’t let that descriptor fool you: Nothing about this pie tastes desperate.
Instead, it’s decadent, delicious, and decidedly easy to prepare, making it the perfect dessert to bookend a holiday feast. I especially love the Honey Vinegar Pie recipe coming out of Lindera Farms in Delaplane, Virginia.
This recipe calls for all the basic ingredients my great-grandmother used. There’s just one important twist: Rather than flavor the filling with run-of-the-mill vinegar, the culinary masterminds at Lindera Farms added their artisanal Honey Vinegar.
A Garden & Gun Made in the South award winner and a favorite of Appalachian chef Sean Brock, this unique product boasts a floral-forward flavor profile with hints of caramel, oak, and bourbon. When whisked into an eggy custard, it affords a sultry richness that puts Heinz distilled white vinegar to shame.
If Mudder were still alive, I reckon she would be a little skeptical of Lindera Farms’ recipe at first. After all, she thought herself the sole inventor of vinegar pie. But after taking a bite and tasting the depth of flavor, she would probably sigh, smooth back her shock of curly white hair, and politely ask for a second helping.
"Founder, Daniel Liberson, forages all his ingredients himself in the mountains to make these exceptional vinegars. They are the best I have ever tasted—and I am a vinegar snob."
Appalachian Chef Sean Brock discussing Lindera Farms Vinegars
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HONEY VINEGAR PIE
FROM LINDERA FARMS
3 tablespoons Lindera Farms Honey Vinegar
4 large eggs
1 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pie crust, either store-bought or your favorite recipe
Line the crust with parchment paper and fill with beans or other weights. Bake for 10 minutes at 350 fahrenheit. Remove from oven and remove lining and weights. Brush the crust with egg wash and use a sharp knife to prick the bottom of the crust. Return crust to oven for an additional 10-15 minutes.
- Whisk together eggs, sugar, and salt until smooth. Drizzle in melted butter while whisking continuously. Whisk in Honey Vinegar. Pour mixture into pie crust and bake for 25 minutes, or until internal temperature is 165 fahrenheit. The top of the pie should be browned, but not too dark.