Shoo-Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy
Makes your eyes light up
Your tummy say “Howdy.”
Shoo-Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy
I never get enough of that wonderful stuff…
My husband and I have been unable to stop singing this ditty ever since I made apple pandowdy recently. The song by Guy Wood, with lyrics by Sammy Gallop, is from the 1940s. (Here’s Dinah Shore’s recording.) Pandowdy, however, dates back to colonial times. It is a sort of pie made with sliced fruit — usually apples — sweetened with sugar or molasses, then topped with a rolled biscuit dough, or according to some old recipes, a pastry dough.
There is also some confusion about why the dessert is called pandowdy. The name may come from pandoulde, a now obsolete word for a Somerset custard. But pandowdy itself seems to be an American dish. Some say that “dowdy” refers to its plain appearance, others that the dessert is so-called because its top is “dowdied,” or cut up, during or after baking.
According to John Mariani in The Dictionary of American Food and Drink, pandowdy was first mentioned in print in 1805. The dessert turned up decades later in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance (1852): “Hollingsworth [would] fill my plate from the great dish of pan-dowdy.” In the meantime, it was supposedly a favorite of Abigail and John Adams, although a recipe I saw attributed to Abigail has a pastry-dough crust, not a biscuit topping. Which is a true pandowdy? I don’t think anyone really knows for sure.
I made a recipe from Eleanor Early’s The New England Cookbook (1954) said to be from Hannah Putnam of Connecticut, wife of Revolutionary War general Israel Putnam. Mrs. Putnam’s great-great-great-great-grandson told Early that his family had been eating this pandowdy for 200 years. (I learned about the recipe from The Guardian Service Ware Blog.)
I wish I had the original text of Putnam’s recipe, as Early’s version is slightly modernized, and she gives a biscuit recipe containing baking powder, which wasn’t available in the 18th century. That said, her dish is probably pretty close to what was made in the Putnam household.
Pandowdy is easy to prepare. I recommend using a variety of apples — I combined Newtown Pippins (a sweet and tart 18th-century variety), Northern Spys (almost as old), and Jonagolds. My other recommendation is to use very cold butter for the biscuit dough, and roll out and cut the dough quickly.
We weren’t thrilled with this pandowdy at first — the apples were a little soupy, and the dough seemed dry. But when I reheated the dish a few days later, it was wonderful. The sauce had thickened slightly, the flavors had melded, and the biscuit was just soft enough. Why, it made our eyes light up and our stomachs say howdy. Now if we could just stop singing that song!
Adapted from Eleanor Early’s The New England Cookbook
4 cups apples, peeled, cored, and sliced (about 4-5 apples)
½ cup apple cider
½ tsp. cinnamon
⅛ tsp cloves
⅛ tsp. nutmeg
1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
¼ cup butter
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 1½-quart or other deep baking dish. Arrange apple slices in the dish and pour the cider over them. Mix the spices with the sugar and sprinkle that mixture over the apples. Dot with the butter.
2. Make biscuit dough (see recipe below). Roll out the dough about ½-inch thick on a floured surface. Cut a round from the dough slightly smaller than the baking dish and place on top of the apple mixture. Make several slits in the dough with a knife so that steam can escape.
3. Bake pandowdy in the preheated oven until the apples are tender and the crust is golden brown, about 30-35 minutes. Before serving, cut up the crust a little, pushing it down into the apples. Serve warm, with whipped cream or ice cream if desired.
(Also from The New England Cookbook)
2 cups flour
5 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
¼ cup butter, cold, cut into small squares
¾ cup whole milk
1. Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt. Cut in the butter until it is the size of small peas.
2. Add milk and stir gently until well absorbed, and the dough forms a rough ball.
3. Place the dough on a floured board and knead briefly. Continue as directed above. (If any dough remains after you’ve cut out your pandowdy top, you can cut it into small rounds and bake on an ungreased baking sheet at 450°F for about 12 minutes.)