Pies are a July 4 treat

This June 2, 2014 photo shows strawberry streusel pie in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

Apple pie may be as American as the Fourth of July, but it probably wasn’t on the table when the holiday first began.

“There wouldn’t have been a whole lot of apples around this time of year,” says Mary Thompson, research historian at Mount Vernon, the plantation estate of George Washington. “They would have eaten them all from last year, and this year’s crop wouldn’t have come in yet.”

From blueberry to strawberry to the pie that combines them to represent the flag, pie is associated with Independence Day. But back in the 18th and 19th centuries, when the holiday was still new, pies weren’t celebratory at all. They were simply a way of life.

“These were not treats,” says Amanda Moniz, an executive of the American Historical Association and author of the blog “History’s Just Desserts.” ”They were convenience foods and they were frugal food.”

Pies served multiple functions for early Americans. They were the original street food, Moniz says, a handy slice serving as plate, utensil and sustenance all at once. Crust was often made of coarse ingredients such as rye and suet, she says, and wasn’t meant to be eaten. It was simply a vehicle for the nutrition inside.

“Centuries ago this would have been fast food,” Moniz says. “People would have been walking through the street hawking pie. If you didn’t have your own cooking facility you could just buy a slice of pie the way you buy a hot dog from a cart today.”

But not all pies had disposable crusts. Hannah Glasse, author of the 18th century equivalent of “Joy of Cooking,” had several recipes for crust, as did Amelia Simmons, who wrote the 1796 “American Cookery,” the first American cookbook. Pies with a fine crust provided an inventive way to handle inferior ingredients and those past their prime, says chef Walter Staib of Philadelphia’s historic City Tavern.

Strawberry Streusel Pie

Start to finish: 30 minutes, plus cooling

Servings: 8

For the streusel:

1½ cups all-purpose flour

1 cup oats

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, diced

For the filling:

2 quarts strawberries, hulled and diced, divided

1/4 cup granulated sugar

Pinch salt

2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Zest of 1 lemon

Heat the oven to 400 F. Coat a 9-inch pie pan with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt. Use your hands or a pastry blender to mix in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Press two-thirds of the mixture into the bottom and up the sides of the prepared pie pan. Gently press a sheet of foil into the pan, then add pie weights or beans.

To make the streusel topping, spread the rest of the crust mixture evenly on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake both until lightly browned. The topping will be done in about 12 to 15 minutes; the crust will take 20 to 30 minutes. Remove the foil from the pie crust and set both pans aside to cool.

While the crust bakes, make the filling. In a large saucepan, combine half of the strawberries with the sugar and salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then cook for 5 minutes, or until the strawberries are very juicy and starting to break down.

In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice and cornstarch. Stir into the simmering strawberries and cook, stirring, for 1 minute, or until thickened. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining strawberries and the lemon zest. Spoon the filling into the crust and sprinkle the cooked streusel over the top. Allow to cool completely.

Berry-Cream Pot Pies

Start to finish: 30 minutes, plus cooling

Servings: 8

1 sheet (half of a 17.3-ounce package) frozen puff pastry, thawed according to package directions

1/3 cup sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 whole egg

2 egg yolks

1½ cups whole milk

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste

2 cups fresh berries (your choice)

Honey, to serve

Heat a countertop grill or panini press. If it has a heat setting, set it to medium-high. Unfold the puff pastry and cut it into 8 squares.

Working in batches, cook the squares of puff pastry on the panini press for 3 to 4 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

Meanwhile, in a medium pan, whisk together the sugar and cornstarch. Add the egg and yolks and whisk until smooth. Add the milk and whisk again until the mixture is completely smooth. Set the pan over medium heat and cook, whisking and scraping the bottom of the pan, until the mixture simmers. Cook for 2 minutes or until thickened. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and vanilla bean paste.

Divide the mixture between 8 ramekins. Press plastic wrap onto the surface of each, then refrigerate until cool.

When ready to serve, remove the plastic wrap and top each ramekin with some of the berries, one of the crusts and a drizzle of honey.

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