Belgian Pies

There are lots of fun things about writing a mystery series that celebrates ethnic heritage. One of those is the chance to explore food traditions.

When I started researching The Lacemaker’s Secret, which focuses on Belgian immigrants in northeast Wisconsin, I quickly discovered the importance of Belgian pies.

Belgian pies are a staple of Kermiss, the annual celebration of thanks for a good harvest:

“Then came the baking, which in the early days could only be done in outdoor ovens. …The Belgian pie! What would the Kermiss be without the famous delicacy, the crust of which was made of dough, spread over with prunes or apples and topped with homemade cottage cheese. So tasty it was that one bite invited another.”  (Math S. TlachacThe History of the Belgian Settlements.)

The outdoor bake ovens could hold as many as three dozen pies. Children were charged with the huge jobs of pitting and grinding prunes, peeling apples, washing dishes.  It wasn’t uncommon for several women working together to produce hundreds of pies. In fact, Belgian pie-making dwindled in recent years because many of the recipes handed down were for enormous proportions.

Photo on display at the Belgian Heritage Center, Namur, WI.

My husband and I first sampled Belgian pie while attending the Kermiss held at the Belgian Heritage Center.

Belgian Pies

An efficient storage system. They were going through the pies fast.

 

An enthusiastic thumbs-up from Mr. Ernst.

Belgian pies are smaller than American pies. Most consist of a yeast-raised dough, a fruit filling, and a top layer of cheese. Traditional flavors are apple and prune. Rice pies are also traditional. Those are topped with whipped cream instead of the cheese.

To learn more, I signed up for a class taught by Gina Guth in Door County. Gina has deep Belgian roots on her mother’s side, and has been making pies for years.  In addition to baking for Kermiss, her mom made thousands of pies for customers at the family tavern.  Gina has adapted recipes for home use.

This wonderful photo of Gina’s mother appeared in the Appleton, WI’s Post-Crescent newspaper, 1969.

During class, Gina provided four types of pie for us to try:  apple, prune, Door County cherry, and rice.

The cheese topping is made with cottage cheese sweetened with butter, sugar, and egg yolks.

Gina demonstrates squeezing excess liquid from the cottage cheese.

The dry curds.

Each student got to make two pies. I chose to make cherry and rice. The dough is pressed into the bottom of pie pans, then almost covered with the topping.

If you live within driving distance of Sturgeon Bay, WI, I recommend Gina’s class at The Flour Pot bakery.  Individuals can also register through the St. Norbert College Outreach/Cooking Class program.


As is true in any community, local bakers don’t always agree on the elements of a traditional Belgian pie. For another take, with recipes, see Edible Door County.

If your book group is reading A Lacemaker’s Secret, why not make a Belgian Pie?

You can also find them, fresh or frozen, at Marchant’s Foods in Brussels, Wisconsin.

piesign

frozenpies

Happy reading, and happy baking!

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12 Responses to “Belgian Pies”

  1. Ellen Bogner Says:

    I just finished this book last night and it was wonderful. I learned a lot. Didnt have a clue about how lace was made, or the Belgian communities in Door county. Thank you for an amazing story , I await the next Chloe adventure.

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Ellen, thanks so much for sharing your kind thoughts. My first job is to tell a good story, but I always hope the Chloe books can share some new info as well. I knew very little about Belgian lace before starting this project, so it was enlightening for me too!

  2. Ruth Says:

    I could not put the book down until I finished it yesterday! Thanks for explaining the Belgian pies. Loved the teaser at the end for the next book…….Ruth

  3. Liz V. Says:

    This post should come with a warning: not to be read when hungry!

  4. Cherylcallies Says:

    I recently came into contact with an author from Madison, Christine deSmet, who also has written about Door Co and the Belgians in her mystery series. You would have much in common🤔. I love your book series, have not read hers, but she also does extensive research so you know her facts are spot on too. Cheryl

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Hi Cheryl – So glad you’re enjoying the series. And I know Christine! She’s wonderful, and in her day job at UW-Extension’s Writing program she’s helped countless writers achieve their dreams. Small world. :>)

  5. Agnes Says:

    Oh my, I spent last summer in Belgium and never heard about the pie, but they look good, I will have to try.
    What a lovely idea to eat one while reading the book… that I just receive and that I am still reading.
    It is really very good, I have a hard time to put it down!

  6. Barb Germiat Says:

    I wonder if the Belgians in Belgium make and eat Belgian pies, or if it’s an American adaption. My husband’s family is of Belgian heritage. When we were young, and dating, I got to eat Belgian pie, either in Green Bay or at a kermiss in Door Co. Wonderful. Marchant’s Grocery in Brussels sells them.

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Good question, Barb, and I don’t know the answer. For my launch party I picked up some pies from Marchants and managed to get them safely back to Madison. They were a big hit!

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