Lake. Hills. Sky. That’s my view at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York, where I work all summer. This region is most famous for Welch’s grape juice (made from grapes grown in Lake Erie terroir), Buffalo wings, and an overstuffed, horseradish-doused sandwich known as beef on weck. Over the years, many illustrious guests have visited Chautauqua, which started in 1874 as an educational program for Sunday School teachers. Its focus, greatly expanded since then, now includes music, theater, visual arts, dance, and lectures by everyone from former news anchor Tom Brokaw to author Margaret Atwood.
Nature lovers at Chautauqua started the Bird, Tree and Garden Club in 1913, and the group still sponsors nature walks, garden awards, and an annual mushroom sandwich lunch. Their sampler cookbook from 2003 includes recipes from its former president, Mrs. Thomas A. Edison (the inventor’s wife and also Chautauqua co-founder Lewis Miller’s daughter), as well as Chautauqua guests Mrs. Herbert Hoover, Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Mrs. Henry Ford, all identified in that old-fashioned way.
The Fords and the Edisons became good friends, as you might expect of two early 20th century inventors, and spent their winters near each other in Fort Myers, Florida. Their homes have now become the Edison & Ford Winter Estates museum. Henry Ford met his wife, Clara Bryant Ford, at a Detroit-area New Year’s dance in 1885. According to the Edison & Ford web site, Henry nicknamed Clara his “great believer” and always appreciated her support of his ideas and ambition.
Clara Ford contributed “an old family recipe brought from England nearly 100 years ago” to the Bird, Tree and Garden Club Sampler Cookbook. Since peaches at the farm stand down the road looked so fresh, I replaced half of the apples with peaches. The pie could be made with either or both fruits. The original recipe calls for nutmeg only, but since I didn’t have any, I used cinnamon. The fizzing sour cream for the crust. feels, quite appropriately, like a science experiment. The result looks more like upside down cake than a bird’s nest, and it tastes better than twigs and twine!
Mrs. Henry Ford’s Bird’s Nest Pie
4 apples or peaches (or a combination), sliced
Juice of ½ lemon
Approximately 4 tablespoons sugar
Nutmeg or cinnamon, for sprinkling
Approximately 2 cups (16 ounces) sour cream
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
2 cups flour
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom and sides of a pie dish with butter. (I used a 9.5 inch glass dish)
- Arrange the fruit in the pie dish, layering it so the top surface is fairly flat. Squeeze the lemon juice over the top and sprinkle with approximately 2 tablespoons of sugar. Sprinkle with cinnamon or nutmeg.
- Place 1 ½ cups of the sour cream in a bowl. Add the baking soda and stir until the mixture foams.
- Add the flour and salt, then stir to combine. Add more sour cream until the batter will “just drop off the spoon, not pour.”
- Smooth the batter evenly over the fruit, using the back of a spoon or your hands (or both) and making sure it reaches the edges of the pie pan.
- Bake approximately 30 minutes, until golden brown on top and the fruit is cooked through.
- Remove from the oven and place a serving plate over on top of the pie dish. Turn the pie upside down onto the serving dish so the apples are on top and the crust is on the bottom. Sprinkle with more sugar and cinnamon or nutmeg. Serve warm.