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Raisin pie features a filling that is made of raisins, cinnamon, brown sugar and vinegar. Dating to the 18th century, German colonists in the early United States often brought raisin pie to funerals, giving it the nickname “funeral pie.” The reason for this was very practical — raisins have a long shelf life and are available year-round. These dried fruits made a delicious pie filling no matter what time of year a funeral occurred.
People in Amish and Mennonite cultures often keep this tradition alive by bringing raisin pie to modern funerals. These cultures often don’t use electricity in the home, so raisins are still the most practical pie filling for any time of year. Even Amish or Mennonite orders that allow electricity often bake raisin pie for tradition’s sake.
Home cooks who want to make raisin pie, either for a funeral or simply for dessert, should start with 2 cups (453.6 g) of raisins and 2 cups (473 mL) of water. The cook should bring the water to a boil in a saucepan and add the raisins. After the raisins have boiled for five minutes, they should be soft and plump.
The cook should add half a cup (113.4 g) each of white sugar and brown sugar to the boiling raisins. He or she also should add 1 teaspoon (about 4.8 g) of cinnamon, one-fourth of a teaspoon (about 1.2 g) of allspice and 2 tablespoons (28.6 g) of cornstarch. Stirring for three to five minutes helps the mixture thicken to a very syrupy consistency.
After stirring the mixture until it is thick, the cook should remove it from the heat and add 1 tablespoon (14.3 g) each of vinegar and butter to the raisin mixture. The cook should let the mixture cool for about 20 minutes to let it thicken a bit more, then should pour it into an unbaked pie shell and top it with a second unbaked pie shell. Cutting holes in the top pie shell allows gases to escape during baking and prevents the top and bottom crust from separating.
The pie must bake for at least 30 minutes at 400-425 degrees Fahrenheit (204.4-218.3 degrees Celsius). The cook should remove the baked pie from the oven and let it cool for at least an hour before eating. Cooks who are making raisin pie for a funeral can make it a day ahead of time. The pie tastes good either warm or cold, so the cook might choose to reheat the pie for the funeral or simply serve it right from the refrigerator.
Raisin pie seems to have fallen out of favor in recent years. I had a slice of one at a covered dish dinner in Pittsburgh a few years ago, and the lady who baked it gave me the recipe. She grew up Amish herself, but left the church when she got married. She thought the name "funeral pie" was one reason it lost its popularity. People just stopped making it for any other reason.
I grew up near Amish country in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. One of my earliest memories was eating a raisin pie at an Amish restaurant inside a flea market. I remember how incredibly good it tasted, especially with ice cream on the side. I never had another slice after that day, and I spent years trying to find a recipe or a pie shop that made them. People kept calling them "funeral pies", but that didn't make any sense to me. I thought they were talking about something completely different.
This article finally confirmed that these raisin pies really did exist, and that the people who called them "funeral pies" were right all along. I still haven't found one to eat, yet.
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