3.14159 Recipes for Apple Pie

By Jacquelyn Sundberg and Labiba Faiza, ROAAr McGill Library

3. 14. 2022 Happy Pie Day to you all on March 14th! While the day that claims the most digits of pi came and went on March 14th, 1592, we celebrate this year by digging out 3.141529265359 recipes to inspire pi, pie, and book lovers everywhere.

There are three fundamentals of great pie: pastry, filling, and someone to appreciate it. We’ll bring together a few points in history for you here – pastry from the 1760s, a classic apple pie filling from the 1930s, and an A to Z appreciation of apple pie and all the various things kids do to and for pie.

Pies are more of a luxury than a necessity, but, as Emerson said, “give me the luxuries of life and I will do without the necessities.”

Farine Five Roses Cook Book, Lake of the woods Milling Company, 1915

1760 – Elizabeth Moxon’s Short Paste for Tarts

How about a fresh baked 262-year-old pie crust to start? This is Elizabeth Moxon’s recipe for “Short Paste for Tarts,” from the 4th edition of her household guide: English housewifry (London: James Lister, [1760]). This pastry – or paste as it was called – has survived the test of time and changing vocabularies. Quite a few contemporary cooks, including Elizabeth Baird, use this pastry recipe as their basic one. Making allowances for shifts in spelling, temperature and measurement that have taken place over the past two centuries, this is a reliable, rich shortcrust pastry, the perfect foundation for a fine apple pie. I, for one am, grateful that I no longer have to test my oven temperature by how long I can stand to hold my hand inside!

A few hints for the adventurous historical baker:

  • A slow oven temperature today is a range between 300-325º Fahrenheit (150-160º Celsius)
  • Substitute ~ 3 TBSP to a 1/4 cup of granulated sugar if your hunt for “Loaf Sugar” proves unsuccessful.
  • The modern refrigerator is a superb alternative to the “icing over” that Moxon recommends.
Elizabeth Moxton. English Housewifry. Accessed March 4, 2022.

185. A short Paste for tarts. Take a Pound of Wheat-flower, and rub it very small, three Quarters of a Pound of Butter, rub it as small as the Flower, put to it three Spoonfuls of Loaf Sugar beat and sifted, take the Yolks of four Eggs, and beat them very well; put to them a Spoonful or two of Rosewater, and work them into a Paste, then roll them thin, and Ice them over as you did the other if you please, and bake them in a slow Oven.

Transcription of Elizabeth Moxon’s Short Paste for Tarts.

Apples to Apples

What is a pie with no filling? Well if you make the above shortcrust, likely flaky and a great side for coffee. In general, the answer is: “a disappointment.” So we suggest a crisp, sweetly delicious apple as a filling, with this recipe from 1915.

For Montrealers the brand Farine Five Roses is iconic; it still shines high on the silos in the old port, proudly proclaiming the local history of the brand to the night sky. on the Internet Archive.

Five Roses Cook Book : Being a Manual of Good Recipes carefully chosen from the contributions of over two thousand successful users of Five Roses Flour throughout Canada : also, Useful Notes on the various classes of good things to eat, all of which have been carefully checked and re-checked by competent authority. Lake of the Woods Milling Company, 1915. View on Internet Archive.

Pie Appreciation from A to Z

Everyone loves to eat pies, many enjoy baking pies, but very rarely are the plethora of other things one can do with them acknowledged, let alone appreciated. The History of an Apple Pie (1850) by J.L. Marks is a children’s alphabet chapbook which lists all the interesting actions, from A to Z, that one could do with or to an apple pie: laughing at it, fiddling for it, upsetting it, writing a history of it, and more. According to the British Library, this rhyme originated around the 17th century and has undergone many alterations over time.  

The History of an Apple Pie (Marks’s edition.). 1850. Marks’s ed. London: Published by J. L. Marks, Long Lane Smithfield. McGill Library catalogue link. View on the Internet Archive.


1. Moxon, Elizabeth. English housewifry. Exemplified in above four hundred and fifty receipts, giving directions in most parts of cookery; and how to prepare various Sorts of Soops, Made-Dishes, Pasts, Pickles, Cakes, Creams, Jellies, Made-Wines, &c With cuts for the orderly placing the dishes and courses; also Bills of Fare for every Month in the Year; and an Alphabetical Index of the Whole. A Book necessary for Mistresses of Families, higher and lower Women Servants, and confined to Things Useful, Substantial and Splendid, and calculated for the Preservation of Health, and upon the Measures of Frugality, being the Result of thirty Years Practice and Experience. By Elizabeth Moxon. 4th ed., printed by James Lister; and sold by the author at Pontefract, and J. Swale, Bookseller in Leedes, [1752?]. Eighteenth Century Collections Online, link.gale.com/apps/doc/CW0108755027/ECCO?u=crepuq_mcgill&sid=gale_marc&xid=c0107195&pg=100. Accessed 4 Mar. 2022.

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