Thursday, February 27, 2014

Recipe: Civil War and Apple Pies

The following apple pie recipe is from the book, Ever True: A Union Private and His Wife

 (see televised "reader's theater")

by Lisa Saunders

                Nancy's time at Forte Foote was spent baking pies and selling them to the soldiers. Apparently she was a large supplier of these delicacies despite the effort to enforce protection "against free trade in pies” (Roe 51).

Civil War letter describing Nancy's apple pie business at Fort Foote along the Potomac River.  Excerpt from EVER TRUE (now a "reader's theater):


To Friends from Charles and Nancy:
[Fort Foote]                                               November the 6-1863
Dear Friends,
             I have neglected writing for some time but to tell you the truth, I haven’t got much time.  I am detailed to work on the barracks and nights, I heft to help Nancy peel apples.  Nancy is in the pie business pretty strong.  Since she has come here she has made up seven barrels of apples and most two barrels of flour.  She has a woman to help her a good deal of the time.  She pays her three shilling a day.  We sell about seventy pies a day and after payday, we can sell three times that many, if we had them, and we expect that every day now.  Money is getting pretty scarce with the boys.  We can’t tell how long we shall work in the pie business, but as long as we can get things reasonable, we will. If we could get apples as cheap here as we could out North we could do very well, but apples is four dollars a barrel and flour eight and a half and sugar fourteen cts per pound.  Lard fourteen cts and everything else high. 
            I tell you though I wished you could see our bluff now.  We are a-going to have the nicest place you ever see and a very strong place.  There was part of a Russian fleet went past here the other day.  They lay near at Alexandria.  They though[t] of going to the Navy yard but they draw so much water they think they can’t run up there. Is four of them.  The smallest one draws twenty-seven feet of water.  I tell you they look nice.  There was a monitor [ironclad] went down the river day before yesterday.  We think that the war business looks pretty favorable now but it will be some time yet. In my opinion it depends a good deal on congress now.
            I have traded my old watch off for a revolver and Nancy is practicing on it.  She is getting to be quite a marksman.
            From Charles and Nancy
(See a televised reading of the one-act play.)
                I do not have Nancy's exact recipe for those famous bootleg pies, but her great-granddaughter, my mother, is also known throughout the region for her delicious apple pies and has baked many to raise funds for scholarships.  I’ve asked her to share her apple pie recipe.

My mother, like Nancy, makes apple pies in bulk. Nancy and Charles’s farm had apple orchards, so when apples came into season, my mother and grandmother put together several pies and stored them in their large chest freezer that stood in their mudroom. Now my mother owns a similar freezer and fills them with apple pies every fall.

Charles wrote that Nancy made seventy pies a day with the help of others doing the peeling.  My mother believes she probably put some apple filling into one crust, folded it over, pinching the sides together, making small “finger pies.”

Mom's Apple Pie 

Pastry for two crust 9 inch pie:

2 cups flour

1 tsp salt

Generous 2/3 cup shortening (Crisco)

4 - 6 tbsp milk or water


¾ - 1-cup sugar

Dash of salt

1 tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp nutmeg

6 apples

1 tbsp butter


Pastry - Sift flour with salt into large bowl.  Cut in shortening with two knives criss-crossing (I use a pastry blender) until pieces are the size of peas.  Add milk one tbsp at a time, stirring gently after each addition. Use just enough liquid to make it possible to gather half of dough together with a well-floured hand.  Too much water and/or too much stirring make pastry tough.  Shape dough with hands into a large thick round disk. Pat down somewhat with hand on a well floured piece of wax paper.  I put the wax paper on a marble slab.  Put more flour on top of dough.  Roll dough with a marble rolling pin.  Roll lightly, but evenly from center to edges.  When pastry is the correct size, pick up wax paper and drape wax paper with dough over right hand (if you are right handed).  Carefully place on pie tin with dough side down.  Gently lift wax paper off dough. If dough sticks in some areas, scrape off with floured knife.  Tears don't matter too much because dough is easy to patch.

Filling - Combine sugar, salt and spices.  Peel, core and thinly slice apples.  Stir in sugar and spices.  Place apples in pie tin making a high rounded dome of the mixture.  Dot with butter.

After filling is placed on bottom pastry in pie tin, put second rolled out pastry on top.  Pinch edges of two crusts together so that it stands up around pie.  Bake in 425F degree oven for about an hour.  Turn down to 400F after 15 min.

I generally spend a day in the kitchen making several pies.  I bake only the pies we will be using within the next couple of days.  The rest are put in freezer unbaked.

The kitchen and I are covered with flour.

Mary Ann McDowell Avazian

Buy Ever True

Saturday, February 1, 2014

2/10, Mon, 7pm, Civil War Love Letters

Monday, Feb 10, 7pm
Presentation: Ever True: A Union Private and His Wife
Admission: Free and open to the public
New London County Civil War Round Table
Main Auditorium of the Slater Museum
Norwich Free Academy
108 Crescent St.
Norwich, CT  06360
For more information about the program, call Barry Wilson at 860-889-5449 or Vic Busch, Program Director, (Most programs last about 45-60 minutes).

The New London Civil War Round Table is hosting Lisa Saunders of Mystic, author of Ever True: A Union Private and His Wife, which features the love letters between Lisa’s great-great grandparents, Charles and Nancy McDowell.  Charles married Nancy when she was 15 years old. Enlisting as a private in the New York 9th Heavy Artillery two years later, he asked Nancy to save his letters. Despite his grueling battles and marches, he was able to save hers as well. Together, their letters tell of bullets, hangings, prostitutes, venereal disease, typhoid fever, lying injured on the battlefield for days, “clever women,” and the court marshalling of a cow. Ever True is also a “Reader’s Theater,” and Saunders, with the help of the audience, will read several selected letters. (Note: Charles fought in several battles with the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery in the Sixth Corps.)
About the Presenter: Lisa Saunders of Mystic is an award-winning writer, TV host, part-time history interpreter at Mystic Seaport and member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. A graduate of Cornell University, she is the author of several books, including the humorous and historical travel memoir, Mystic Seafarer's Trail. Visit Lisa at: