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Raisin funeral pie a Pennsylvania Dutch tradition

From the Complete Series: Death and dying series
William Woys Weaver book

Food historian William Woys Weaver explores funeral pie and other Pennsylvania Dutch funeral food traditions in "As American As Shoofly Pie," his 2017 book.

There was a time when a dessert called Amish funeral pie was a very popular food item made for funerals and other special occasions in Pennsylvania Dutch culture, says William Woys Weaver.

This pie made with raisins, cinnamon and nuts “was all over 19th-century America,” says Weaver, a Devon food historian and author who specializes in Pennsylvania Dutch food culture.

He describes the pie as “like a mincemeat pie, but with raisins.”

Weaver discussed Pennsylvania Dutch funeral food culture in his 2017 book “As American as Shoofly Pie: The Foodlore and Fakelore of Pennsylvania Dutch Cuisine.”

“A lot of these customs (like the raisin pie) have declined because people are doing funerals differently now,” Weaver says. “They might just go to a restaurant after (the funeral) and have a sit-down dinner for 100.

“I went to an Amish funeral and they had pizza,” Weaver says.

“People don’t want raisin pie anymore,” Weaver says. “I’m seeing fewer and fewer people making it. They want lemon meringue pie. They want something else.

“The more conservative Plain groups may be preserving some of these older (funeral food) customs longer, but even those are changing radically,” he says.

“I noticed that, among the Old Order Mennonnites, they had a lot of dried fruit at their funerals, even today,” Weaver says. “That would include apricots, prunes and peaches.

“One of the women I interviewed (for the book) said her only memory of eating prunes was at a funeral,” Weaver says. “She said, ‘When I see prunes in the store, they make me sad, because I think of a funeral.’”

Weaver recalls an embarassing funeral pie story from his own family.

“My grandmother (Grace Hickman Weaver), who was Quaker, didn’t know anything about this raisin pie story,” Weaver says. “And my grandfather was from Lancaster Mennonite background. And so she thought she was doing a good thing: She found a Pennsylvania Dutch cookbook, she made a raisin pie and she took it to this old aunt of (my grandfather’s) who was very sick.

“And the old lady got really upset, because she thought everyone knew something about her health that she didn’t,” Weaver says with a laugh. “She thought (my grandmother) was bringing her funeral pie before she was dead.”

Here’s a vintage recipe for a different kind of funeral pie, which Weaver included in “As American as Shoofly Pie.”

It’s basically a Reformed Mennonite recipe commonly used as a special-occasion food in the 19th century, Weaver says.

“To be honest with you, I think they got it from the Quakers.”


LEMON-RICE PIE

Makes 1 (9-inch) pie

Ingredients:

• Pastry for a 9-inch pie

• 1 cup white long-grain rice

• 2 cups water

• 2 eggs

• 1 cup cream

• 1/2 cup sugar

• 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons grated nutmeg

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

• 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

Directions:

  1. Line a 9-inch pie pan with short pastry and set aside.
  2. Rinse the rice in running water until the water runs clear. Bring the water to a boil and add the rice.
  3. Cover and cook over medium heat until all the liquid is absorbed. Fluff with a fork.
  4. Put the rice in a deep work bowl and let it cool to room temperature.
  5. Preheat the oven to 325 F.
  6. Beat the eggs until they’re lemon-colored and add the cream, sugar, nutmeg, salt and lemon zest.
  7. Combine this with the rice, and pour the mixture into the prepared pie shell.
  8. Bake in the preheated oven for 60 to 70 minutes, or until fully risen in the center.
  9. Cool on a rack, and serve at room temperature or slightly chilled.

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