CLOSE
Original image
iStock

8 Forgotten Pie Recipes We Should Bring Back

Original image
iStock

Sometimes simpler is better. That’s certainly the case with these old-fashioned pies, which have been unjustly relegated to the back of the recipe box. Made from just a few basic ingredients, they still manage to be rich and full of flavor. So break out the apron and the rolling pin, and give them a try.

1. BUTTERMILK CHESS PIE

The beauty of this pie is in its simplicity. Known as a “desperation pie” because it relies on just a few very basic ingredients—the only ingredients many cash-strapped farm families had back in the 19th and 20th centuries—the chess pie nevertheless manages to be decadent, with flour, sugar, eggs and butter coming together in just the right quantities. Adding in buttermilk along with some cocoa powder makes it even more satisfying. From there, you can customize it any number of ways—with lemons, pecans, even with citrus fruits.

2. MINCEMEAT PIE

iStock

Mincemeat reaches all the way back to the 13th century, when Crusaders returned from the Holy Land with the three main spices: cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. Cooks used them mainly as preservatives for fruit and meat, and found that combining everything together made for a tasty pie filling. Recent generations have done away with the “meat” part of mincemeat pie, though chefs swear on their grandmother’s grave that it’s the best version of the dish. For those put off by elk or venison or beef in their dessert, give former Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl’s found recipe a try.

3. SUGAR CREAM PIE

If you grew up in Indiana, there’s a good chance you're familiar with this, the official pie of the Hoosier State. The recipe comes from the Amish, who settled in Indiana in the 1800s, and it calls for heavy cream, milk and, of course, sugar. Like chess pie, this desperation pie has gone out of style in recent generations. But dutiful Hoosiers have kept it in their holiday rotations for years. Mixing brown with granulated sugar can deepen the flavor, while a cinnamon topping can spice things up a bit.

4. SHOOFLY PIE

Molasses is the main ingredient in this pie, for which we can also thank the Amish (Pennsylvania Dutch, in this case). There are two types: “dry bottom” shoofly pie, which has the consistency of gingerbread, and “wet bottom,” which has a custard-like quality and comes topped with crumbs. There are a few theories about the name, the most convincing one being that the sweet molasses drew flies while pies were cooling, causing cooks to have to shoo them away. Alton Brown has a highly rated recipe for shoofly pie that includes brown sugar crumb topping. Give it a try—and keep the window closed.

5. VINEGAR PIE

Don’t be put off by the name of this pie, which combines the silky quality of a custard pie with the tartness of an apple pie. The use of apple cider vinegar was a way for 19th-century cooks to mimic the taste of the actual fruit, making this an early culinary hack. And while you won’t find it in most restaurants, it’s pretty simple to make at home. Try this recipe from Epicurious, or this one from Martha Stewart, and serve it up with a scoop of ice cream.

6. MARLBOROUGH PIE

This New England specialty was once a staple in the region, where the plentiful supply of apples met with the custard pie recipes settlers had brought over from England. The name is thought to refer to the English town of Marlborough. Recently the pie has fallen out of favor in kitchens and restaurants, which is a shame since it combines two delicious pie elements—apples and custard—along with lemons and sherry wine. The taste, according to historian John T. Edge, author of Apple Pie: An American Story, carries “the tang of lemons, the silky musk of sherry, the base register of apples.” Yankee Magazine has a recipe that adds dashes of cinnamon and nutmeg to the mix.

7. FLAPPER PIE

If the phrase “Canadian prairie pie” doesn’t pique your interest, then perhaps the graham cracker crust, the custard filling, or the meringue topping will. Pioneered by home cooks north of the border, flapper pie is another decadent dessert made from the most basic ingredients—namely eggs, sugar, cornstarch, and butter. The crust can be a bit tricky, but you can always opt for a premade version from the store. As far as a recipe goes, Canadian grandma Irene Hrechuk won’t steer you wrong.

8. HUCKLEBERRY PIE

The hardest part about making this pie might be finding the title berries, which grow mainly in the Northwest and can only be found in the wild. Online sellers offer them frozen by the pound, which can be expensive. But with a uniquely tart taste, they’re definitely worth the investment. Pastry chef and author Greg Patent believes they’re one of the best baking berries around. Try his recipe for huckleberry pie, which he claims took him 20 years to perfect.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

Original image
iStock
Sponsor Content: BarkBox
arrow
8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
Original image
iStock

Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES