One of the best gifts I received for Xmas this year was from a dear friend who presented me with a pie funnel. What is a pie funnel? you might ask. Well, it’s a kitchen gadget worth owning, that’s what. Pie funnels, also referred to as pie birds, are a time-honored baker’s tool that have helped create delicious pies for centuries. The hollow pie bird vents steam from the filling as it cooks, preventing the contents from boiling over. Arches on the bottom redirect excess moisture to keep the bottom crust from becoming soggy. The pie funnel releases hot air from the bottom out the top of the crust, resulting in a perfect pie.
I made my best apple pie ever thanks to this little birdie. In the past I would cut slits in the top crust to let the heat escape and help keep the pie from bubbling over. This method is flawed for two reasons. #1: these openings tend to seal up while baking. #2: the slits allow heat to escape from the top of the pie only. Any air trapped below the top couple of layers of apples has nowhere to go. The crust raises and firms up in the oven at the height of the apples before they are cooked. While baking, the apples soften and settle lower in the pie. The result is a pie with a gaping chasm between the apples and the crust—impossible to slice without the crust breaking and crumbling—which is not too pretty.
Remember the rhyme, “Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye. Four and twenty Blackbirds baked in a pie. And when the pie was opened the birds begin to sing…”? Years ago, little clay whistles in the shape of blackbirds’ heads were baked into the pie pastry on top of the pies. As the story goes, when the pie was cut, the cooler air in the room met with the hot contents in the pie, creating steam. The steam rose through the blackbirds upraised heads and they began to sing. Maybe that is why the blackbird with his little head titled back is the most common pie bird you will find.
I’ve been baking since I was a kid, beginning with the chocolate chip cookie and moving on in my teens to apple pie. The pie funnel has changed my life—and my baking—for the better. My only question is, Why did it take so long to discover it?
1. Le Creuset Pie Bird. 2. Classic Victorian Pie Funnel by The Gourmet Pie Cup on etsy. 3. Homepride Fred Ceramic Pie Funnel. 4. Vintage Chef Pie Funnel from the 1940s. 5. Blackbird Pie Funnel by Wade (this is the one I have!). 6. 1950s Vintage Elephant Pie Funnel by the Cardinal China Company. 7. Vintage Josefs Originals California Yellow Chick Pie Bird circa 1953 on etsy.