I discovered a little thing called pie birds, recently. I became a bit obsessed about tracking one down for myself. I felt like I couldn’t make a pie again without it. For those of you wondering, a pie bird is a ceramic hollow vent, that allows steam to escape from double crusted pies. Double crusted fruit and meat pies have a tendency to boil over if steam builds up while baking. For centuries, arch-bottomed, hollow funnels were used to correct this problem and in the 40’s ceramic birds were created, (though now there are many other designs available). The bird figure became popular because of the whistle or “song” that the steam and funnel creates.They were also commonly called “crust holders” since the bird tended to keep the middle of the pie from sinking in.
There is something about these little pie vents that catches my fancy. While they are virtually unnecessary today because of new, more efficiently heated ovens, there is something whimsical about them.
This 1909 British model, worth $1,000, resembles a propeller. It’s dividers enabled chefs to bake two flavors of pie in the same dish.
If you want to track one down at an antique store, expect to spend a pretty penny. These birds/vents are highly collectible. But worry not my broke friends, there are plenty affordable ones available online. I found mine (a classic black one) at a local homesteading store. In Fall, stores like World Market have them in stock.
Once you hear the song these little birds sign while baking, you’ll think twice about the nursery rhyme we all know so well, Sing a Song of Six Pence.
Sing a song of sixpence, A pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds, Baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened, The birds began to sing;
Wasn’t that a dainty dish, To set before the king?