This recipe for old-fashioned vinegar pie will make you feel like one of those hardy pioneer bakers who were able to make something delicious from almost nothing.
It is so good and easy to make!
If you’re a fan of old-fashioned desperation pies, another favorite to try is a classic Indiana sugar cream pie.
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Watch my vinegar pie web story here.
Vinegar Pie, At a Glance
✔️Skill Level: Beginner
✔️Skills: Lining a pie tin with dough, whisking
✔️Number of Ingredients: 6
✔️Prep Time: 10 minutes
✔️Cook Time: 35 minutes
✔️Yield: 8 servings
Related Recipe: Pate Brisee
Jump Straight to the Recipe
Pies in Time of Desperation
Sometimes, you just need something sweet. Something simple to throw together with a few pantry staples, something soul-satisfying and made with love. Sometimes you just need pie.
These days, most Americans are very fortunate to have ingredients handy to make fruit pies or chocolate pies whenever we feel like it, but back in the days before refrigeration, before huge supermarkets with all their bounty from all over the world, our pie-loving forebears had to be pretty creative in order to have pie in the dead of winter.
These pies relied on staples that were almost always available. Flour, butter from a cow, and water = pastry, and the fillings were based on other pantry stand-bys like:
- molasses (shoo fly pie)
- sorghum (sorghum pie)
- cream (sugar cream pie),
- cornmeal (chess pie and its variations like chocolate chess pie)
Eggs were almost always available because most people had chickens.
And there you had it: pie whenever you needed a sweet pick-me-up between the distant memory of bright crimson and golden leaves and the much longed-for buds of May.
If you know this is a pie you want to make, you can skip straight to the recipe.
But Vinegar Pie? Really?
I hear you. I mean, of all the desperation and “pioneer pies” I’ve ever heard of, old-fashioned vinegar pie seems to be the most desperate kind of pie, you know?
The pie is like an answer to a challenge.
Two pioneer women talking about what they could make out of nothing, and then one says to the other,
“Oh, yeah?! How ’bout you make a vinegar pie, Marjorie!”
And Marge pushes up her sleeves, adjusts her bonnet, tightens her apron strings and is all “Hold. My. Beer, Blanche.”
I think you’ll get over the weirdness once you realize the pie isn’t made mainly of vinegar. It’s not like a sliceable sweet and sour sauce.
The vinegar in this pie is used as a flavoring agent. Like vanilla. There’s just enough of it in the mix to bring a nice tartness to round out the sweetness.
It reads as a “lightly lemon pie,” not as a pie full of vinegar.
The rule “you catch more flies with honey (or in this case, sugar) than you do with vinegar” is still true.
Nobody is going to eat a pie that has a cup of vinegar in it, least of all me.
If you’d like to read a bit more about the history of vinegar pie, you can jump down to that section.
How to Make the Most Desperate of the Desperation Pies
Here are the ingredients you’ll need to make vinegar pie.
- pie crust: feel free to make your own, or use frozen store-bought. I use pate brisee which is an all-butter crust.
- eggs: you can use 3 or 4. Using four eggs will give you a firmer, more easily sliceable set. If you use 3 eggs, your pie will be a bit softer and creamier. There is no wrong answer here–it all depends on your taste. But there are no substitutes here. You need the eggs.
- brown sugar: brown sugar provides sweetness and a bit of flavor from the molasses. You can use honey if you prefer, but just remember that this will add more liquid to the pie, so don’t go crazy with it. And in this case, I’d go with the four eggs.
- melted butter: adds richness, helps to carry flavor, and assists with browning. I give two amounts of butter. You can use more or less, depending upon your taste. Please note that the butter may seem to separate out of the pie and make the top look slick, but it will reabsorb as the pie cools.
- salt: brings out all the flavors and counteracts any bitterness you might get from the apple cider vinegar
- apple cider vinegar: provides the acidic flavoring of this pie so that it reads as almost a lemon pie. And yes, you could absolutely top this with meringue to make a “desperation lemon(ish) meringue pie.” Or just step into the modern world and make a lemon meringue tart.
Is This Pie Hard to Make?
In a word, no. It really is an easy pie to make. Especially if you start with a store-bought crust, all you need to do is whisk a handful of ingredients together, pour them into the pie crust, and bake until the filling is no longer wobbly.
Jenni Says: I am pretty sure the pioneers didn’t take time to parbake or blind bake their crusts, but to ensure browning on the bottom of the pie, you may want to do that. Here’s how to blind bake a pie crust.
- Make a pie crust (optional. You can also buy one)
- Whisk the brown sugar, eggs, salt, butter, and apple cider vinegar together.
- Pour the filling into the pie crust, and bake.
Seriously. Is There Any Way I Can Mess This Up?
I guess the worst that could happen is that you overbake the filling and scramble the eggs.
It’s not very likely, especially since we’re baking the filling in a crust, and crust provides insulation.
If you are concerned, use an instant read thermometer to check the internal temperature in the center of the pie. It should ready right around 165F. Once it reaches the magic temperature, pull it out and let it cool on a rack.
I hope I’ve made my case for the tastiness of this pie.
As I said in the recipe, I used brown sugar rather than white. I figure a pie “seasoned” only with a bit of salt and vinegar (chips! No, not chips) might need the additional flavor of molasses.
Anyway, I hope you give it a try and that you enjoy it very much.
As unlikely as it sounds, I think this homey pie will win you over with how easy it is to make and how easy it is to eat!
Looking for a Not-So-Desperate Dessert?
But when fruit is scarce, turn to desperation pies. Pure comfort when it’s cold outside and summer is but a distant memory.
Okay, enough talk. You need to make this pie. Let’s go.
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A Note About Measurements
For convenience, consistency, and accuracy, almost all my recipes are written by weight, either in ounces and/or grams, even the liquids.
I strongly encourage you to purchase a kitchen scale and learn to use it.
This is the one I used for years. I love it and highly recommend it:
Don't let its small price and small size fool you. The Escali Primo is an accurate and easy-to-use food scale that I have used for years. It's easy to store, easy to use, has a tare function, and easily switches between grams and ounces/pounds for accurate measurements.
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Old-Fashioned Vinegar Pie
- 1 crust for a single crust pie your favorite recipe or store-bought
- 3-4 large eggs at room temperature (three will give you a softer set)
- 1 cup light brown sugar* packed
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt I used Morton’s (yes, that much)
- 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter 3/4 sticks**, melted and cooled slightly
- 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
For the Crust
- Line a 9″ pie pan (not deep dish) with your pastry. Crimp however you’d like.
- Line the crust with parchment or a large coffee filter and then fill it with beans or other weights. Bake for 15 minutes at 350F.***
- Carefully remove lining and weights and set aside. Brush crust all over with egg wash (1 egg beaten well with a pinch of salt). Prick the bottom crust well with the tip of a sharp knife, and then bake an additional 10-15 minutes, or until the bottom of the pie crust looks dry. If the crust bubbles up at all with air pockets, carefully press them out.**
- Remove the crust from the oven and set aside. The crust will be pale. It’s okay, it will bake some more once you put the filling in.
For the Filling
- Whisk together the eggs, sugar, and salt until well combined and smooth.
- Drizzle in the melted butter while whisking constantly.
- Whisk in the apple cider vinegar.
- Pour into the crust and bake for about 35 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the pie is 165F. The filling will rise up and be nicely browned on the top. It will sink back to level as it cools.
- Remove pie from oven and cool to room temperature. Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled from the fridge. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.
Did You Make Any Changes?
History of Vinegar Pie
Okay, so maybe my “hold my beer” scenario is pure fiction. Over on Instagram, I even wrote a one-act play about how vinegar pie was invented and featuring everyone’s favorite pioneers, Charles and Caroline Ingalls and their kids, Mary and Half-Pint. More fiction?
Well, according to Carissa from the blog Pretty Hungry, Laura Ingalls-Wilder wrote about this pie and a bunch of other crazy/awesome desperation pies her mom used to make in that little house on the prairie or in the big woods or wherever they were living at the time Charles would look over at her in January, and say, “Hey, hon? Make me a pie!”
It is my feeling that the history of vinegar pie is the same history as all the other desperation pies.
Someone, somewhere wanted pie.
And that someone decided they were going to make pie out of whatever was available.
I am not sure there was a single person that invented this pie.
It was probably a bunch of able and creative (and desperate) home bakers who all said something along the lines of “I have eggs, sugar, and vinegar. I’mma make a pie. Hold my beer.”
What are my qualifications to teach you baking and pastry? As a former working pastry chef and special educator, I marry my passions for both teaching and for baking into explaining techniques, methods, and developing the best possible recipes. For more info, you can read more about me.
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Thanks for spending some time with me today, friends. Enjpy the vinegar pie, and have a lovely day.