Mrs. Beeton’s Pies for Pi Day

Title page of Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management

Title Page and frontispiece of Isabella Beeton's The Book of Household Management, 1866 edition published in London by S.O. Beeton.

March 14th (3/14) is celebrated around the world as Pi Day because the Greek letter ㄫ or pi, which is used to represent the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, rounds to approximately 3.14. By a happy coincidence Pi is a homophone of Pie, and so 3/14 is also the perfect opportunity to enjoy baking (and eating) sweet and savory circular pastries.

And in case you’re looking for a unique and historic pie to celebrate Pi day, below we share three recipes from the 1866 edition of Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management. Originally published in parts alongside the Beetons' The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine, it was released as a single volume in the fall of 1861 and soon became immensely popular throughout Great Britain and its colonies. Revised and updated editions remained influential into the 20th century.

The authorial persona of a knowledgable cook with long experience managing a large household was a stretch at best (Beeton herself was in her 20s and supervised just one or two housemaids in the Beetons’ suburban home) and most of the recipes and other diverse content (from the history of hog breeds to the ettiquette of removing one's shawl when visiting) were drawn from existing sources. However, this should not detract from an appreciation of Isabella Beeton’s achievement. She translated, edited, and condensed a massive quantity of content into the single encyclopedic reference work that Victorian England’s burgeoning middle class was clearly hungering for. Crucially, she was also among the first to adopt and popularize the recipe layout we take for granted today. In contrast to most other cookbooks of the time, Mrs. Beeton’s lists ingredients at the beginning of the recipe, so that the cook can easily check that everything is on hand, and clearly labels the preparation time and serving size for each recipe. In some cases, she also provides information on seasonability and total cost of the dish. 

Pie in America is most often eaten as dessert, but 19th century England favored meat and fish pies, such as Mrs. Beeton’s Eel pie:

Recipe for Eel Pie. See text below image in post.
Eel Pie recipe from Isabella Beeton's The Book of Household Management, 1866 edition published in London by S.O. Beeton.

253. INGREDIENTS. --1 lb. of eels, a little chopped parsley, 1 shalot; grated nutmeg; pepper and salt to taste; the juice of ½ a lemon, small quantity of forecemeat, ¼ pint of béchamel (see Sauces); puff paste.
Mode. --  Skin and wash the eels, cut them into pieces 2 inches long, and line the bottom of the pie-dish with forcemeat. Put in the eels, and sprinkle them with the parsley, shalots, nutmeg, seasoning, and lemon-juice, and cover with puff-paste. Bake for 1 hour, or rather mroe; make the béchamel hot, and pour it into the pie.
Time.--Rather more than 1 hour.
Seasonable from August to March.

Giblets, which usualy consist of the heart, gizzard, and liver of a bird, rarely receive much attention from today's mainstream cookbooks, but Victorian England was far less squeamish in the matter of offal. It’s worth noting that as with the use of giblets in Thanksgiving stuffing, the giblets in this recipe appear to be in small proportion to the rump-steak they accompany and may add serve to add flavor as much as prevent waste.

Giblet Pie Recipe. For details, see text in post below.
Eel Pie recipe from Isabella Beeton's The Book of Household Management, 1866 edition published in London by S.O. Beeton.

966. INGREDIENTS.--A set of duck or goose giblets, 1 lb. of rump-steak, 1 onion, ½ teaspoonful of whole black pepper, and a bunch of savoury herbs; add rather more than a pint of water, and simmer gently for about 1 ½ hour. Take them out, let them cool, and cut them into pieces; line the bottom of a pie-dish with a few pieces of rump-steak; add a layer of giblets and a few more pieces of steak; season with pepper and salt, and pour in the gravy (which should be strained), that the giblets were stewed in; cover with a plain crust, and bake for rather more than 1 ½ hour in a brisk oven. Cover a piece of paper over the pie, to prevent the crust taking too much colour.
TIme.-1 ½ hour to stew the giblets, about 1 hour to bake the pie.
Average cost, exclusive of the giblets, 1s. 4d.
Sufficient for 5 or 6 persons.

Of course, if eels and giblets are just a little too much historicity for you to handle, Mrs. Beeton also comes through with basic apple pie. The recipe is still somewhat different from the usual American fare of today, however, due to its use of puff pastry for the crust and the suggestion of beer, sherry or quince slices for extra flavoring.  

Apple Pie Recipe
Apple Tart or Pie recipe from Isabella Beeton's The Book of Household Management, 1866 edition published in London by S.O. Beeton.
Apple Pie Recipe Part 2. See text in post for content.
Apple Tart or Pie recipe from Isabella Beeton's The Book of Household Management, 1866 edition published in London by S.O. Beeton.

1233. INGREDIENTS.--Puff-paste No. 1205 or 1206, apples; to every lb. of unpared apples allow 2 oz. of moist sugar, ½ teaspoonful of finely-minced lemon-peel, 1 tablespoonful of lemon-juice.

Mode. -- Make ½ lb. of puff-paste by either of the above-named recipes, place a border of it round the edge of a pie-dish, and fill it with apples pared, cored, and cut into slices; sweeten with moist sugar, add the lemon-peel and juice, and 2 to 3 tablespoonfulls of water; cover with crust, cut it evenly round close to the edge of the pie-dish, and bake in a hot oven from ½ to ¾ hour, or rather longer, should the pie be very large. When it is three-parts done, take it out of the oven, put the white of an egg on a plate, and, with the blade of a knife, whisk it into a froth; brush the pie over with this, then sprinkle upon it some sifted sugar, and then a few drops of water. Put the pie back into the oven, and finish baking, and be particularly careful that it does not catch or burn, which it is very liable to do after the crust is iced.
If made with a plain crust, the icing may be omitted.
Time.--1/2 hour before the crust is iced; 10 to 15 minutes afterwards. 
Average cost, 9d.
Sufficient.--Allow 2 lbs. of apples for a tart for 6 persons. 
Seasonable from August to March; but the apples become flavorless after February. 

Note.--Many things are suggested for the flavouring of apple pie; some say 2 or 3 tablespoonfuls of beer, others the same quantity of sherry, which very much improve the taste; whilst the old-fashioned addition of a few cloves is, by many persons, preferred to anything else, as also a few slices of quince.