Barbara Swell, The Lost Art of Pie Making Made Easy (Native Ground Music, 2004)

I have to start with a confession. I have a "thing" for chatty cookbooks and their sisters, chatty home-management books. It started with Peg Bracken's I Hate to Housekeep when I was a teenager. Much more interesting than my Home Ec textbook, Tomorrow's Homemaker, it was. Then I went through the Mrs. Appleyard books by Louise Andrews Kent and Elizabeth Kent Gay, Shirley Conran's Superwoman series, Motherly Advice From Cathy's Mom by Anne Guisewite, pretty much everything Peg Bracken ever wrote. I have a whole collection of them.

Despite this guilty interest, I'm a lousy housekeeper and only an adequate cook.

The Lost Art of Pie Making Made Easy isn't the best of its genre (Peg Bracken is still my heroine), but it's pretty darn good. This short (72 pages) book manages to fit in recipes for over 40 types of pie, plus several types of pastry and meringue. Besides traditional fruit pies, there are funny cakes, sponge pies, dumplings and various sorts of meat pies. They come from a variety of sources, including the author's own experimentation, her family and friends and a number of vintage cookbooks and magazines.

Swell annotates many of the older recipes, adapting them for modern tastes, suggesting substitutes and giving safety hints. For instance, the fresh rhubarb pie recipe involves pouring boiling syrup into a tiny hole in the piecrust. Swell gives the directions, for the sake of historical accuracy, then suggests strongly that no one follow them. She also includes modern research on how to make meringue without getting salmonellosis, a problem most of the original authors of the recipes didn't have to worry about.

The Lost Art of Pie Making Made Easy is copiously illustrated in black and white. There are old photographs, many from the Library of Congress' collections. There are pictures from the old cookbooks she quotes. There are many photos of the authors of the various recipes. It also has a complete index.

Along with the recipes, hints and words of wisdom, Barbara Swell includes instructions for organizing and hosting a pie contest. I enjoyed this book so much, I immediately took steps to obtain not only Barbara Swell's other books, but several of those she quotes from.

And yes, I've tested out a couple of the recipes and I have plans for many more.

[Faith Cormier]

Barbara Swell is the author of several other collections of old-time recipes and household hints:
Old-Time Farmhouse Cooking: ~ Rural American Recipes, Wisdom, & Farmlore~
, Mama's In The Kitchen: ~ Weird & Wonderful Home Cookin' 1900-1950~,
Take Two & Butter 'Em While They're Hot!: Heirloom Recipes & Kitchen Wisdom
, Children at the Hearth: 19th Century Cooking, Manners and Games,
Log Cabin Cooking: Pioneer Recipes and Food Lore

and Secrets of the Great Old-Timey Cooks.
They are all published by Native Ground Music, her husband Wayne Erbsen's company, which also publishes songbooks, musical instruction books and recordings related to the southern Appalachians or to railroads.