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Dr Chase’s Squash Pie (more or less!)

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For this Curiously Creatively post, I am back in the realm of old recipes (or receipts as they were called back in ye olden times). If you remember we have previously featured vintage recipes from writer Juliet Greenwood and The Llangollen Ladies, Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby. This time I have ventured across the Atlantic with a small book containing a collection of recipes by Dr Alvin Wood Chase, Buffalo Cake and Indian Pudding, (Penguin Great Food, 2010). This series from Penguin comprises several tempting titles, containing extracts from the work of Eliza Action, Alexis Soyer and Alice Waters to name but a few. This looks like a good series to introduce new readers to classic food writers, so I am only sorry that it has taken me a while to discover it. I now need to check whether any of the other titles are still available.

But who was the good Dr Chase (1817-1885) I hear you enquire. I have to admit to never having heard of him either until I chanced upon this small volume recently. The book offers some biographical information from the publishers as well as containing a fond memorial piece from a Rev L Davis, dated 28 November 1886. Alvin Wood Chase was born in Cayuga County, New York and eventually married and settled in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He was a collector of folk remedies and recipes as well as being a travelling physician. According to the ‘In Memoriam’ piece, Chase didn’t begin his medical studies until 1856, studying in Michigan and Ohio. As he travelled dispensing medicines, he collected recipes along with folk remedies. All this valuable information formed the basis of his publications, which apparently were welcomed by pioneers and settlers who were keen to have a ‘multi-purpose how-to-guide to assist them in everyday life’.

Chase published his first book, A Guide to Wealth! Over One Hundred Valuable Recipes for Saloons, Inn-Keepers, Grocers, Druggists, Merchants and Families Generally (1858). By the 1863 edition, Chase’s handy guide contained over 800 recipes. Hs final book came out posthumously in 1887, entitled, Dr Chase’s Third, Last and Complete Receipt Book. Dr Chase seems to have been well respected by the citizens of Ann Arbor where he worked for many years for the good of the townspeople. Rev Davis says that Chase’s ‘real and ever-enduring monument is seen in his life, devotion and usefulness to his fellow man’.

The upshot is that I couldn’t resist trying out one of the recipes from the good doctor’s collection. As I have been threatening to have a go at a pumpkin or a squash pie for years, this was as good an opportunity as any that I could find. In the pie chapter, I found two possible alternative versions to try. In addition, I discovered the useful tip (quoted from Ruth H Armstrong of the Housekeeper) that it is better to bake your fruit first, rather than boiling to avoid the problem of having watery pumpkin/squash. I chose the following version to attempt to bake:

The ingredients

Squash Pie, Very Rich – Stew a medium sized crook-necked (or other equally rich) squash, and rub the soft part through a colander; butter, ½ lb; cream and milk, each 1 pt., or milk with the cream stirred in, 1qt.; sugar, 2 cups; 1 dozen eggs well beaten; salt, mace, nutmeg and cinnamon, 1 teaspoonful each, or to taste.

The directions follow along similar lines to Chase’s previously noted recipe for Pumpkin Pie. After rubbing your squash through a colander, add, ‘the butter, sugar and spices, and make hot, then the beaten eggs’. The squash recipe contains milk, so you’d add that next (it’s flour in the pumpkin version). The directions continue, ‘mix smoothly together, and while hot put into the dish, having a thick crust to receive it, and bake in a moderate oven’. Henry Crane, Frost House, Eaton Rapids, Mich.

Dr Chase recommends baking the pastry before adding the filling, if the cook is ‘fearful of a soggy crust’. He also goes on to note, ‘I think good squash makes a richer pie than pumpkin, while some persons claim the reverse’. He also mentions two different varieties of squash, the crookneck and the Hubbard; as Lidl could only supply butternut squash I made my first tweak to the recipe. I had to resort to Google to determine the appearance and qualities of the first two varieties, as they were unfamiliar to me. I can only assume that they are not readily available in either Ireland’s or Britain’s supermarkets, but maybe in specialist food shops.

My second recipe tweak was to scale the quantities down, since I am neither a saloon owner nor an innkeeper. I decided to make a quarter of the amount but despite this, I still had some filling left over after filing my 9” ceramic flan dish. My major recipe alteration was to cheat and buy some readymade pastry so that I could focus on dealing with the squash filling mixture. As Chase recommends a pastry with a light and flaky crust for all types of pie, I bought flaky pastry (Tesco brand).

I baked my squash, as recommended, by cutting it in half lengthways and laying the pieces cut side down on the baking sheet. I also baked the seeds in a separate dish at the same time since they make a great lunch box ingredient. When the squash was nice and soft, I left it to cool slightly before scooping out the interior. My estimation was that the small sized Butternut would produce about the correct quantity of flesh for my scaled down recipe. I mashed the tender flesh into a very smooth pulp with a potato masher so I decided that it didn’t need pushing though a colander as given in the recipe.

One inescapable fact of recipes of this vintage is that directions, cooking times and temperatures are rarely precise. For instance, the instruction to ‘make hot’ is vague to say the least. I took it to mean that you should heat up the squash mixture to a moderate temperature, but not to boil it. Similarly, the recipe has no oven temperature save ‘moderate’ so I baked the pie at 180c (gas mark 5) which seemed reasonable. I did bake my pastry case blind, following Dr Chase’s advice, to avoid a soggy bottom (so to speak).

The verdict

I was quite pleased with my first attempt at a squash pie and the rest of the household seemed to agree with that verdict. I served slices with plain Greek yogurt (we sampled the pie both warm and chilled on separate occasions) which worked very well, though cream or ice-cream would work equally well I think. I enjoy tackling vintage recipes, so look out for some more samples to appear on the blog in the future.

Has anyone else got any hits and tips on pumpkin or squash pies? I would love to hear them!

Picture credits: Curiously Creatively

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