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Practical Kitchen Pets: Pie Birds

IN THE November 10 ISSUE

FROM THE 2012 Articles,
andDiana Bulls,
andFood Fun,
andHometown History
SECTIONS

by Diana Bulls

So, you have taken my advice from past articles and have started poking around in your grandmother’s (or mother’s) kitchen drawers, and you found this ceramic thingy. It sort of looks like it was half of a salt and pepper set, but then again, there is only one hole on top and it’s way too big. Lucky you; you have found a pie bird! It is one of those whimsical, days-gone-by kitchen gadgets that is still practical enough that every pie baker should have one.

What exactly is a pie bird you ask?

Well, first of all they have several different names. They have been called pie vents, pie funnels, pie chimneys and pie whistles–they don’t whistle though, or make any noise at all. And although they are generally called pie birds, they aren’t always shaped like birds. They are basically a hollow ceramic device that lets the steam escape from a baking pie, so all the bubbly juices stay inside the piecrust.

pie bird in pie

These clever little devices originated in Europe and have been around since Victorian times. They were first called pie funnels (still called that by the British) and were actually shaped like little ceramic funnels. By the late 1800s, potteries started designing vents just for pies, but then they were called crust supports or crust holders. In addition to preventing the pie juices from boiling over, the funnels helped support the pastry crust so it did not sag in the middle.

Reproduction Mammy pie bird, c. 1970

According to Piebirds Unlimited (“a virtual roost of pie bird collectors”), the first recorded bird shaped pie vent in England was a design by Clarice Cliff in 1936. Pie birds were produced in the United States in the 1930s as well, but their history (again according to Piebirds Unlimited) is rather vague since American potteries did not register their pie bird designs. Pie birds are still being made by a variety of artists and pottery companies, and they are popular as gifts and collectors’ items today.

How to Use a Pie Bird

The choice of pie is up to you. It could be a fruit pie or a savory meat pie, and the piecrust can be your own homemade or one out of a box.

1. Roll out your piecrust to fit your pie plate.
2. Fold one crust in half and place in plate.
3. Unfold and smooth crust out over the edge of the plate.
4. Place your pie bird in the center of the bottom crust.
5. Add the filling around the pie bird, filling the plate.
6. Fold the top crust in half and then in half again; cut a slit at the fold.
7. Unfold one fold and place on pie; gently ease slit over the pie bird and cover the rest of the pie.
8. Crimp the crust around the pie bird; trim and crimp the crust around the pie edge.
9. Bake as usual; remove pie bird when you cut the first piece of pie.

Go to http://piebirdsunlimited.com/index.html for photo instructions.

Collecting Today

Older pie birds can turn up in all sorts of places besides Grandma’s drawers–yard sales, flea markets, junk shops and high end antique stores. You can also find them on eBay, in retail shops (new) or you can buy them directly from a specific artist or pottery company.

Grandmother's pie bird, c. 1930

Pie birds have four distinguishing features:

1. Almost all have some kind of notch or vent along the bottom edge to allow steam to enter.
2. There is a vent hole in the top of each figure.
3. The bottom of the figure is open so it can be cleaned.
4. The interior of the figure is glazed so it can be cleaned.

Piebirds Unlimited has some photos, lots of information and lists several resources for collectors, old and new, on their website. It is worth a visit.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. What better time than now to search out your very own pie bird. Just see if it makes a difference in your next apple pie!

P.S. I expect a short, written report on your search and baking experience.

Diana Bulls is an ongoing contributor to our
Hometown History section, having collected vintage kitchen utensils for over 40 years; she is also actively involved with the Reedley Historical Society.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 MargaretNo Gravatar
Twitter: @margaretmendel2
November 11, 2012 at 8:21am

What a great article on something I’ve always wondered about. Thanks!!

Reply

2 Diana BullsNo Gravatar November 15, 2012 at 8:05pm

Thank you Margaret, for your kind words.

Reply

3 KathyNo Gravatar November 29, 2012 at 12:28pm

Aw! Guess I can’t have one of those pie birds – Rosie would eat it.

Reply

4 Dave haenleinNo Gravatar January 19, 2019 at 9:08am

Greetings
Are you aware of any pie birds (creatures) made out of cast iron? I have a bird, a frog, and a fish. I could send pictures if it would be helpful. Thanks for your consideration.

Reply

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