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The Blog: On her blog, Nothing in the House, one thing brings together folklorist Emily Hilliard’s varied interests and studies: pie.
You’ve been producing your blog for eight years. How have you kept pie interesting for yourself?
As a freelance writer and folklorist, I tend to have a lot of short-term projects that pull me in different directions, so it’s been nice to have Nothing in the House as a continuous project with a very specific framework. But pie is also exciting to me because it provides a lens into so many other things—American culture, women’s work, feminism, regionality, seasonality, music, race, history, nostalgia, technique, folklore, etc. It is a pervasive and transcendent symbol. With that said, I don’t intend to make pie overly precious. At the end of the day it is just pie, and that sensibility is something I also really value.
What are some of your favorite sources for vintage recipes?
I collect old cookbooks and often draw material from there, and whenever I’m in someone’s kitchen and see a cookbook I haven’t encountered, I always flip to the pie section to see what unusual recipes might be inside. Community and church cookbooks are particularly good for this. Online, Michigan State University’s Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project is also a great resource.
What do you often have to keep in mind when working from old recipes?
Old recipes often assume a certain base level of cooking and baking knowledge and can leave a lot more room for interpretation than modern recipes. I appreciate this, as it opens up space for creativity and new twists, but sometimes it means that instructions can be a little baffling. In those instances of confusion, I usually cross-reference with a relevant modern recipe and remember to trust my instincts.
What is your favorite era for pie, and why?
Tough question! But I’ve always been taken with Depression-era pies. The name of my blog, Nothing in the House, is taken from a genre of pies, also called Desperation Pies, that were common during the Great Depression. They were made from a few, inexpensive ingredients, like vinegar pie, chess pie, cracker or mock apple pie, and green tomato pie. I like these because they are examples of the ingenuity and resourcefulness of home bakers—an ability to make some beautiful and delicious with what was on hand.
What are some of your favorite pie-making tools?
My vintage Tupperware rolling mat for rolling out dough, and a pastry scrapper for cutting and working the pastry into the pie pan are my go-to tools. I also treasure the double-decker Amish pie-carrying basket that my parents gave me for Christmas years ago. It’s signed by the woman who made it, Loretta Miller, and safely (and I’d venture to say, even stylishly!) transports two pies.
What food blogs are you loving right now? There are so many great blogs out there right now, it’s hard to pick just a handful, but Apt. 2B Baking Co., Witchin’ in the Kitchen, Biscuits & Such, Wayward Spark, and Smoke Signals Baking are constant sources of inspiration. I also always enjoy the Southern Foodways Alliance blog for its smart writing on the diverse food traditions of the American South.
Kristin Donnelly is a former Food & Wine editor and author of the forthcoming The Modern Potluck (Clarkson Potter, 2016). She is also the cofounder of Stewart & Claire, an all-natural line of lip balms made in Brooklyn.