American Classics: Belgian Pie
For Belgian Americans in northern Wisconsin's Door County, the start of autumn is a time for giving thanks. In early September, they observe the annual Kermesse (or Kermiss), a celebration of the harvest. The word Kermiss comes from the Dutch words for a church mass, and even today you can find Kermiss celebrations listed at churches throughout Door County. The feasts are complete with traditional Belgian dishes like the hearty stew known as chicken booyah and trippe, and of course no Kermiss would be complete without a Belgian Pie.
The very first Kermiss celebrated in America was said to have taken place the third Sunday of September in 1858. Then as now, the Kermiss was a large scale gathering and one centered around hospitality. Many old Belgian pie recipes make six or more pies per batch—an entirely reasonable number considering families often prepared upwards of 5 dozen pies for the occasion.
Most of the pies I've encountered have had a butter, shortening, lard, or cookie crust, but the Belgian Pie consists of a yeast-raised crust and can be filled with any of a number of fillings. Fruit fillings like apple, prune, and raisin are popular as is rice. Known in Dutch as Rijsttaart, the filling is akin to rice pudding. In his book, The History of the Belgian Settlements in Door, Kewaunee and Brown Counties, author Math S. Tlachac describes the pies as such: "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."
I hope to one day have the opportunity to travel to Door County to partake in the Kermiss festivities, but until then I shall console myself with a nice slab (or two) of a homemade Belgian Pie, because one bite most certainly invites another.
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About the author: Alexandra Penfold is mild-mannered children's book editor by day, food ninja by night. Never one to skip dessert she's the Brownie half of Blondie & Brownie and a Midtown Lunch contributor. You can follow her on Twitter at @blondiebrownie.