When I told my husband I was making a vinegar pie, he didn’t believe me! And why should he? Common sense tells us that vinegar has no place in dessert. But there’s an unusual group of pies known as “desperation pies” that have been around for ages. These desserts were borne out of the need for a sweet treat and a lack of fresh or fancy foods. You may have heard about pies like green tomato, buttermilk, lemon chess, sugar cream, and mock apple that make do with unexpected ingredients to create delicious desserts. Vinegar pie falls into that category. The vinegar provided a tartness when fruits like lemons or apples weren’t available. Our great-grandparents were nothing if not resourceful! (Ever hear about their pink margarine?)
The process for making vinegar pie couldn’t be easier. You simply mix together eggs, sugar, butter, vinegar and vanilla and pour into an unbaked or par-baked crust. In less than an hour, you’ve got a finished pie on your hands! You can add spices like cinnamon or nutmeg, extra flavors like maple or lemon, or raisins or brown sugar when they’re on hand.
It should be noted that there are other methods for making vinegar pie, but all of them are more complicated. Your grandmother’s tattered and well-used cookbook might have you stir, stir, stir a water-based custard that’s been thickened with starch before pouring it into a baked pie shell and chilling it. This recipe has an even more unexpected method.
Official Taste Test
Does vinegar pie taste as offensive as you think? Absolutely not. Its taste and texture resemble a typical custard pie. You do taste the vinegar a little bit at first, but it quickly dissipates into a balanced medley of sweet and tart. It actually comes across as a little bit citrusy, and if you didn’t know vinegar was the flavoring agent, you’d likely never guess it! Underneath the crackly sugar topping, the texture is amazingly silky and tender.
If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself swishing each bite around in your mouth, trying to prolong the sensation of the cool custard on your tongue. It’s hard to stop eating!
- In my experience, pies like this are always better when the crust is blind-baked, so that’s what I did. When you don’t, you’re in danger of having a pie with a soggy bottom!
- My pie was done after just 35 minutes in the oven, so start checking early. When a thermometer reads 165°F or higher, the eggs are cooked and the pie should be set (though you should let it cool completely before slicing).
- I used distilled white vinegar for my pie, though I’m curious to see how apple cider vinegar would change the taste. There’s plenty of room for experimentation, and since it’s so easy and inexpensive to make, there’s no reason not to play around!
- I preferred this pie chilled, though it’s fine at room temperature too. Whatever isn’t eaten immediately should be stored in the fridge.
I loved it—the humble vinegar pie is a dessert worthy of a comeback! Because it’s made using pantry staples and comes together with very little effort, there’s nothing stopping you from making it next time you’re desperate for something sweet.
If you liked the story behind vinegar pie, you might also like our 25 vintage baking facts.