To Make an Onion Pie

This recipe is a Historic Foodways favorite. The apples and onions sweeten the potatoes and eggs, and the butter and seasonings tie everything together. This is a pie, which means it has a top crust. A ten-inch pie pan works best.

18th Century

Wash and pare some potatoes and cut them in slices, peel some onions, cut them in slices, pare some apples and slice them, make a good crust, cover your dish, lay a quarter of a pound of butter all over, take a quarter of an ounce of mace beat fine, a nutmeg grated, a tea-spoonful of beaten pepper, three tea-spoonfuls of salt; mix all together, strew some over the butter, lay a layer of potatoes, a layer of onions, a layer of apples, and a layer of eggs, and so on till you have filled your pie, strewing a little of the seasoning between each layer, and a quarter of a pound of butter in bits, and six spoonfuls of water; close your pie, and bake it an hour and a half. A pound of potatoes, a pound of onions, a pound of apples, and twelve eggs will do.

Glasse, Hannah, “The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy” p. 259

21st Century

  • 4 small Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 2 large Granny Smith apples
  • 2 medium yellow onions
  • 8 large eggs
  • 3 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly cracked pepper
  • ½ to 1 grated nutmeg
  • ½ to 1 tsp. mace
  • 4 oz. butter
  • frozen puff pastry or homemade pie crust
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Boil and slice the eggs.
  3. Pare and slice the potatoes, apples and onions. Slice everything ¼ inch thick. Place the apples and potatoes in a bowl of water to prevent oxidation.
  4. Roll out the bottom crust and set it into the pie pan.
  5. Mix the salt, pepper, nutmeg and mace to together in a single bowl.
  6. Drain and dry the apples and potatoes with a towel.
  7. Begin the layers from the bottom up with potatoes, then eggs, then apples and then onions. Sprinkle each layer with a little of the seasoning and little bits of butter. Continue filling and seasoning the pie until you are out of ingredients.
  8. Put a top crust on the pie and crimp the edges. Cut 4 or 5 slashes on top crust to allow steam to vent out.
  9. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until the crust is a nice golden brown.

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37 Responses to “To Make an Onion Pie”

  1. September 23rd, 2011

    christy says:

    We visited Colonial Williamsburg this past week & saw this recipe on display in the Palace kitchen ~ it was beautiful & intriguing. There were many people very interested in it, so thank you for posting the recipe so quickly. I’m thinking this will be perfect for my vegetarian sister when I host Thanksgiving this year!

    • September 23rd, 2011

      Historic Foodways says:

      We’re glad to share the recipe! Let us know how yours turns out this Thanksgiving.

  2. September 24th, 2011

    Dolores Kelley says:

    Thank you for the prompt posting of this recipe. I can’t wait to try it and will let you know how it turns out.

  3. September 26th, 2011

    Emily says:

    This sounds amazing! Can’t wait to try it.
    Am visiting next week and am SO excited for the chocolate making session!

  4. September 30th, 2011

    India says:

    So funny … I was looking at her apple pie recipe just the other day, which is right next to it in the cookery book (savory and sweet distinctions don’t really seem to faze her). The onion does appear to be the best thing in the “pye section;” now I will have to try it!

  5. October 13th, 2011

    Pam Williams says:

    Made this over the past weekend – have made it before, turned out nicely. When I’ve made it before, I used her actual recipe – not the transcription. HOWEVER….Mrs. Glasse calls for 3 TEASPOONS of salt. Your receipt calls for 3 TABLESPOOONS.
    Ended up a little salty – no, actually, way salty. Are Mrs. Glasse’s teaspoons full equivalent to OUR tablespoon?

    • October 17th, 2011

      Historic Foodways says:

      Pam,

      Great catch! You’re right, the recipe should read “three teaspoons.” Thanks for letting us know. It’s correct now.

  6. October 21st, 2011

    Heather says:

    How many teaspoons of ground nutmeg are contained in “1 nutmeg?”

    • October 24th, 2011

      Historic Foodways says:

      Heather,

      We find that one nutmeg yields about 1/2 tsp. of ground nutmeg, but feel free to use more or less in your recipe when you prepare it. Let us know how it turns out!

  7. October 21st, 2011

    christy says:

    Heather ~ 1 whole nutmeg is approximately 2-3 tsp ground.

  8. October 24th, 2011

    christy says:

    Hmmm, should the recipe read 1/2 – 1 TEASPOON grated nutmeg, rather than 1/2 to 1 (assuming whole) nutmeg? I just grated a whole nutmeg to see how much it would be as ground… it was just over 3 tsp… I don’t mean to be nitpicky, but that is significantly different than the 1/2 tsp mentioned above & would noticeably change the overall flavor of the dish.

    Perhaps there are different types/sizes of nutmeg? I’m using McCormick brand whole nutmegs… unfortunately, the label doesn’t list their variety or origin.

  9. October 27th, 2011

    Historic Foodways says:

    Actually, having used quite a lot of nutmeg and seeing it fresh in the Caribbean, there is little variation in their sizes. What has changed is our preference for it and the way we cook. I like about a half a nutmeg in this recipe, but please do not let us dictate your taste. There also is a big difference in flavor between using fresh grated nutmeg and pre-ground nutmeg. It will take more pre-ground to equal the flavor of fresh grated. Colonial people almost always bought spices in whole form and then ground them right before use.

    Put just exactly how much nutmeg, sugar, salt or whatever else you want in your dish. We are providing some guidelines, but we expect everyone to adjust these recipes to their taste. Add ingredients, subtract ingredients, have fun with it.

    Personally, when I make this recipe I have a mix of salt and pepper in a bowl. I use more pepper than the 3 to 1 ratio that Hannah calls for because I like it. I then build the pie in layers as I am doing it I sprinkle a bit of the salt and pepper mix in and grate a little nutmeg on it and few little chunks of butter with every other layer. I have also put minced garlic in this recipe when I cook it at home because I love garlic! A bit of white wine in it is also very tasty. Try it with red pepper for a kick!

    -Frank Clark

  10. January 31st, 2012

    Dolores Kelley says:

    I have made the Onion Pie and my husband and I found it delicious. I’ve obtained a deeper 9″ pie pan and look forward to making it again. Attached is a photo of my onion pie. I look forward to trying many of the other recipes from the 18th century featured on History Is Served.

  11. February 1st, 2012

    Patricia Lynn says:

    How would pies have been served at the table/ would they still be in the pan, or were they removed and presented free-standing?

    • February 2nd, 2012

      Historic Foodways says:

      The simple answer is they would not be put on the table in the pie pan.

      However; I think I should point out a difference in what we consider a pie and what the 18th century considered a pie. For them, a pie must have two crusts, or in other words, a lid. If it has just a bottom crust it is generally not considered a pie but a pudding, especially if there is an egg custard in the single crust.

      There were four main types of pastry crusts: puff pastry, cold crust, sugar paste, and a coffin paste. The first three are edible crusts. The last one is not. Coffin pastries are made from a very thick, stiff dough of salt, flour, and a little butter and water. They are usually made free form without pans and are often quite large. They would commonly have meat fillings in them and were very highly decorated. They would be baked for long periods and then brought to the table. The guest would then break open the top crust and scoop out the filling and then throw the crust away. The coffin pastry sometimes had a hole cut in the top and a sauce or gravy was poured into it before it was served.

      The coffin pastry becomes less common as the period progresses, because they often wasted up to six pounds of flour in making one. And it would always be limited to the upper classes who could afford to throw away that much flour. It is sometimes hard to tell by looking at a recipe if it does not specify a particular crust if it was supposed to be an edible crust or a coffin pastry. One way to tell is quantity, since coffin pastries are often large. So if the recipe calls for huge quantities, like say six chickens, then it may well be a coffin pastry.

      -Frank Clark

  12. February 2nd, 2012

    Patricia Lynn says:

    Thank you, this is very helpful. If one were going to present a pie with an edible crust at the table, would it be correct to use a tart pan with a removeable bottom to bake with?

    • February 2nd, 2012

      Historic Foodways says:

      Absolutely, that is all we have at the palace kitchen. We do occasionally use ceramic redwear for more Virginia-style dishes at the Randolph kitchen.

      -Frank Clark

  13. March 16th, 2012

    Lori says:

    I gave this recipe a try, but I failed. I will not give up, though! I will try again. I used a regular earthenware pie plate. But my veggies were not completely cooked and there was too much liquid. I will try again, and obviously bake longer. I’m wondering if I should try a different kind of pan, perhaps a springform pan?

    • March 19th, 2012

      Historic Foodways says:

      Yes, all the reproduction pie tins we use have a separate bottom. This makes it easy to remove the pie later. Be sure to butter or use your favorite cooking spray to grease the pan first. I would also suggest that you slice the onions and potatoes very thinly. This will help them cook through. I find that normally the vegetables are still pretty crisp in these pies when they are done.

      I hope the next attempt goes better for you.

      Thanks,
      Frank

  14. April 12th, 2012

    Carol says:

    How are the eggs added to this dish? Are they cracked open and dropped or maybe beaten in a bowl first. Or hard boiled?

    • April 12th, 2012

      Historic Foodways says:

      The eggs are hard boiled, and then peeled and sliced. Those form one layer of the pie along with the layer of onions, apples and potatoes.

      -Frank Clark

  15. April 13th, 2012

    Nancy Moraski says:

    Just made this pie as an experiment for an event at Old Deerfield (MA). It is fabulous! I winged it with the nutmeg and used 1 1/2 tsp. Seemed about right. I had trouble getting everything into the pie. Had potato and onion left over and only got 5 eggs in by the time it was full. Once you make it you will know how much filling will fit. A wonderful recipe that has lots of potential for variations in the 21st century. I lined my pie pan with crossing strips of parchment paper to make it easier to remove the pie from the pan.

  16. October 25th, 2012

    Ruby says:

    Hi, I’m a Girl Scout Cadette who plans to make onion pie for a troop meeting. It sounds good but is there anything that I might have to change if I want to serve bite sizes for 15 people? Also, been reading the comments, which do you think is better, the 18th century recipe or the 21st century recipe?
    Thank you.

    • October 25th, 2012

      Historic Foodways says:

      We are impressed that you are doing this for other scouts, that’s fantastic. I would say that the best way to do this for fifteen pieces is to bake it in a 9″ x 9″ square oven dish. That way you can cut 3 rows one way and 5 across. If you really wanted to be energetic, you could double the recipe and bake it in a 9″ x 13″ pan. As for which recipe is the best we tend to be purists and go for the original version. Good luck and let us know how they liked it.

      -Dennis Cotner

  17. January 4th, 2013

    Amanda says:

    Hello! I’m planing on making this pie today for a 12th night dinner tomorrow night, will it be ok to prepare the day before or will it mess with the consistency?

    • January 7th, 2013

      Historic Foodways says:

      The pie is OK to make the day before and can be reheated but as is with most foods they are the best when freshly prepared. Leftover onion pie is good for lunch!!!!!

      Thanks,
      Dennis Cotner

  18. March 1st, 2013

    Lucia says:

    Tried this out this evening. I used a springform pan. It worked really well. The pie tastes really good. I’m looking forward to the leftovers!

  19. October 3rd, 2013

    J.A. Kennedy says:

    I thought I’d share a photo during a recent visit of an onion pie made at Williamsburg. The design on top is beautiful and represents the main ingredients — onion, apple, egg, and potato. Hats off to the chef!

  20. June 30th, 2014

    Ava Martin says:

    I made two of these pies, but unfortunately I think it requires an 18th century palate:) It wasn’t a favorite a our house.

  21. July 12th, 2014

    Ronald Yasinsky says:

    should it be served hot,warm ,or room temp

  22. September 25th, 2014

    Peg Frankfurt says:

    I have seen this made in the “kitchens’ on our past visit. Since my family isn’t as adventurous as I am, is there a place in Colonial Williamsburg that serves this?

  23. December 17th, 2015

    kirean says:

    I’ve made this pie many times now. It’s become my go to potluck dish. I find, after making it many times, that 4 eggs make a better balanced pie than the 8 called for, and that 2 oz of butter is more than enough – more like 1.5 ounces. I try to slice the veggies very thin, less than 1/8 inch thick, so they are done when the crust is browned.

  24. April 20th, 2016

    Malyson Haight says:

    I make this all the time, it’s tasty and filling. It’s a good meatless option too. The sweet and savory flavors are so unique.

  25. November 12th, 2016

    Jen says:

    I made this today and it was excellent! I used puff pastry and a springform pan, and it turned out really well. The pastry browned before the veggies were quite done, so I covered it with foil for the last 15 minutes or so. As others suggested, I only used 4 eggs, and I felt that was plenty. I used a fairly light touch with the nutmeg and mace and thought they added some nice notes to the dish without overwhelming it.

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