If you’re gathering with loved ones and friends for the Thanksgiving holiday, it seems there’s always a homemade pie on the table. Take a closer look at the pie before cutting into it this year. Did the baker make slits in the top of the pie to allow steam to escape or did they use a “pie bird” similar to the one recently gifted to your Vanishing Texana Museum?
During the Victorian Age in England, pies of all kinds were popular. Meat, fruit, egg, and vegetables pies were all the rage. Wooden stoves were the standard oven for baking and so temperatures could vary greatly. The pie’s filling would often boil over, flooding the top of the pie pastry. The filling could also leak down onto the bottom of the oven making a sticky and sometimes smelly mess. Thanks to an unknown baker who decided to use a piece of open glass tube to vent the center of the pie, the steam that had built up could escape without causing any other damage. Word spread quickly and soon every baker was using some sort of steam release device in the center of the pie.
Originally the vents were made of glass and were tubular or funnel shaped, but ceramic materials were also used. The venting device was placed in the center of the pie with the upper crust pressed around it. Once in place, the vents supported the upper pastry and kept the filling from overflowing.
It wasn’t until the 1930’s that U.S. and British companies, using fired ceramics, began to make the vents into shapes that quickly became an art form, particularly those that looked like a bird. The bird design became so popular that the venting device became known as a “pie bird” regardless of its shape or the material it was made of.
Why a bird shape? The English have a nursery rhyme titled "Sing a Song of Sixpence." It makes reference to "four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie..." and pie historians believe that this reference was the reason the traditional pie vent went from a funnel shape to the design of a bird.
When a pie has a pie bird, the upper crust doesn't need any other piercings for steam to escape. Some bakers prefer this unbroken, smooth look feeling it offers a more visually pleasing impression when presented. Some cooks also like the look of a whole pie served with the pie bird in place and feel its old fashioned look adds a warm memory to a meal.
Your Vanishing Texana Museum is closed Thursday and Friday of Thanksgiving week, but will be open on Saturday, November 28th from 11-4. We invite you and your family to visit. As always, admission and parking are free at our 300 South Bolton location.