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Why Our Pioneer Ancestors Loved Vinegar Pie


Why Our Pioneer Ancestors Loved Vinegar Pie

 Many people today wince at the thought of a Vinegar pie.  However, our pioneer ancestors loved it and used apple-cider vinegar to take the place of lemon or lime juice to make this tart and sweet pie.  The recipe is essentially identical to a Key Lime pie or a Lemon Meringue pie except 3 tablespoons of apple-cider vinegar are substituted for the customary 3 tablespoons of lime juice or lemon juice in traditional citrus pies.

Pioneers knew how to improvise

 The simple ways that we buy things like lemons, limes and other citric fruits like oranges seems so easy these days.  Our ancestors didn’t have it so easy.  Something as simple as a lemon, orange or lime was a rare treat and often very expensive and hard to find.  There just wasn’t a good distribution system and the amount of lemons, limes and oranges weren’t as great as today because there wasn’t the demand, let alone the distribution systems.  But that didn’t stop many pioneer women from improvising alternative solutions.  That’s what motivated the first vinegar pie recipes. The acetic acid in the vinegar delivered the same piquancy and tartness as the citric acid in citrus fruits.

A favorite in logging and mining camps

 Every logging or mining camp had a cook shack.  This is where the loggers and miners gathered to eat.  Much of the menu consisted of wild game and fish and various breads also found their way onto the cook shack tables.  But dessert was another story and while cooks in these camps were very creative, the options were often limited.  That’s when and why vinegar pie emerged as a camp favorite.  It was not only sweet and tart but was often topped with a light and delicate meringue that gave it a creamy and sweet topping.

Apple-cider vinegar to the rescue

 Apple-cider vinegar was used in a variety of ways by our pioneer ancestors.  It was an antiseptic, used for food processing and canning, a household cleaner, a topical antibiotic for cuts and scrapes, a flavoring ingredient in many recipes like vinegar pie, and oh yeah… sometimes they even used it to make a salad dressing.

Books have been written about the health benefits of apple-cider vinegar and if you want to get a good dose, plus appreciate a bit about our past, give this vinegar pie recipe a try.

The easy way and the hard way to make vinegar pie

 Pioneer cooks made everything from scratch and by hand.  It’s not that hard to do but it takes time.  Today we can take some shortcuts using countertop mixers and buying pie crusts at the store.  We’ll cover both approaches if you want to get in touch with our pioneer roots, but we’ll also offer some shortcuts in case you don’t have half a day to make a vinegar pie.

You might want to consider some of the shortcuts because as you’ll see, this recipe takes some time and patience.  That’s something that every pioneer needed to bring to everything they did but the result is worth it.

Vinegar Pie recipe and approaches

The foundation of a vinegar pie is the crust.  You can make one from scratch or buy a pre-made crust at the store.  The important thing is that the pie crust needs to be partially baked before adding the pie ingredients.

By the way, the reason you’re partially baking the crust is because the pie ingredients are wet and warm when they’re added to the crust in the pie pan.  If you dump them into a raw pie crust they will dissolve some of the crust and you might end up with a gummy mess.

You also have another option to consider if you want to be 100% authentic.  This pie crust recipe calls for butter.  This was another scarce ingredient in pioneer times and lard was often used instead.  That’s up to you.  It curious that finding butter these days is probably easier than finding lard.  You could also substitute shortening.  Just make sure that any alternative is partially frozen.

Scratch pie crust ingredients:

 1 ¼ cups of all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon of salt

½ cup of semi-frozen butter or lard (you can substitute shortening) and cut into

¼-inch cubes

¼ cup of ice water

Scratch pie crust directions:

Here again, you have two ways to go.  The easy way is use a countertop mixer with the batter bread attachment, not the dough hook or the whisk attachment.  The hard way is to do it all by hand in a bowl while literally using your hands.  And then there’s the easiest way which is buying a ready-made pie crust at the store.  It’s up to you.

Scratch pie crust in a counter top mixer

The handmade pioneer pie crust as an alternative to a countertop mixer



The Vinegar pie filling
Okay, this is where things get a little complicated.  After reading this section you might want to reconsider that store-bought pie crust but that’s your call.


 ¼ cup of sifted all-purpose flour

1 cup of white sugar

1 cup of water

3 egg yolks (reserve the egg whites for the meringue)

1/8 teaspoon of salt

1 tablespoon of butter or lard at room temperature

3 tablespoons of apple-cider vinegar

Meringue ingredients

3 egg whites

6 tablespoons of sugar




Meringue directions

Once again, we’ll cover this today’s way and the pioneer way.


Serve hot or cold.

And there you have it.  It’s no different than the steps you take for citrus pies except apple-cider vinegar takes its place.  This pie is great with a cup of coffee and a cold slice at night always hits the spot.