Pie Multi-Tools

Behold the missing link between Martha Stewart and Moby Dick: the scrimshaw pie multi-tool.

6 Pie Crimpers 460

IMAGE: Scrimshaw pie-crimping multi-tools from the collection of the New Bedford Whaling Museum; photograph by Nicola Twilley.

2 Pie Crimpers 460

IMAGE: Scrimshaw pie-crimping multi-tools from the collection of the New Bedford Whaling Museum; photograph by Nicola Twilley.

On a recent Venue visit to the New Bedford Whaling Museum, I was captivated by a gallery filled with scrimshaw items, carved by American nineteenth-century whalemen as gifts for mothers, wives, and sweethearts during their long sea voyages. Alongside busks (a rigid insert that kept the corsets straight and upright) and swifts (used to hold hanks of yarn during winding), scrimshanders carved baleen, walrus tusks, and whale teeth into hundreds of thousands of pie crimpers.

1 Corset Busks 460

IMAGE: Scrimshaw corset busks from the collection of the New Bedford Whaling Museum; photograph by Nicola Twilley.

Serious pastry chefs today still crimp the edges of their pies using their fingers. Some might go as far as using a fork or spoon to create decorative patterns; and the truly gadget-obsessed, or those with no limitations on their kitchen storage space, might even own a simple stainless steel crimping wheel.

Fork crimping 460

IMAGE: Using a fork to crimp a pie edge; photograph by Lauren Weisenthal for Serious Eats.

Chicago Metallic 460

IMAGE: A contemporary pie crimper from the Chicago Metallic “Baking Essentials” range.

Nineteenth-century scrimshaw pie crimpers, however, are not just useful for sealing pies with an attractive flourish. They incorporate forks for punching air holes, knives for cutting off excess pastry, tart tampers that double as decorative stamps, and, most importantly, two, three, or even four crimping wheels, each of which would imprint a different pattern on your pie crust.

3 Pie Crimpers 460

IMAGE: Scrimshaw pie-crimping multi-tools from the collection of the New Bedford Whaling Museum; photograph by Nicola Twilley.

5 Pie Crimpers 460

IMAGE: Scrimshaw pie-crimping multi-tools, including one for very tiny pies, from the collection of the New Bedford Whaling Museum; photograph by Nicola Twilley.

The exhibit attributes this functional extravagance to many hours of boredom at sea, but also to the American diet in the nineteenth century. A typical New England meal of the era would involve not just pie, but pies, in both savoury and sweet form. Armed with a crimping multi-tool, a lucky whaler’s spouse or mother need never fear a moment’s confusion differentiating between her cherry and chicken pies.

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6 Comments

  1. Hope Hare
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    These are lovely tools, and remind me of those splendid molds for springerle cookies. This place has a nice collection of of modern examples–many are copies of antiques.
    Hope

  2. Kaleberg
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    I get the impression that America was once a pie eating nation. That’s what the March 1930 issue of Fortune claimed. 2/3 of all desserts eaten in the US were pie and 2/5 of those were apple pie. The annual commercial bakery market was about $60,000,000, and one Chicago bakery produced 90,000 pies a night. Pie making was heavily automated back then, and one reason for pie being so popular was that it was possible for a machine to make a fairly good pie.

    My guess is that WWII introduced a taste for chocolate with all those GIs eating Hershey’s bars. Nowadays, it can be hard to find a non-chocolate dessert at a restaurant, let alone order a slice of apple pie.

  3. Kathy
    Posted May 24, 2013 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    I suspect that the wife who was gifted with the naked lady crimper didn’t exactly share that with the other whaler’s wives after church!

    If only a few of those designs were available today I’d be thrilled, although more whale-friendly plastic would be even more wonderful! I bake a lot of pies for modern home cooks, at least one per weekend, except during the hottest days of summer. Using my fingers and/or a fork is nice, but some of those crimpers are incredible. Fortunately, New Bedford is just far enough away for a morning’s field trip, so I can visit these crimpers in person and see if there is some way to replicate them.

  4. Tunie
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    Wow, this is certainly the best scrimshaw work I’ve ever seen – such amazing design skills these sailors had!

  5. Lyn
    Posted April 6, 2013 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    I came across this entry via twitter. Thanks for sharing. I was just looking at some scrimshaw work by whalers yesterday here at the Ulster museum in Northern Ireland where I live, nothing as exquisite as the work pictured but a happy coincidence just the same. Greetings from Belfast

  6. nina
    Posted April 6, 2013 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    I was so happy to see these this morning! I grew up in Providence,RI and went to the whaling museum on field trips through out my youth. As an adult I went back to see this very collection. The scrimshaw collection is amazing, but these are totally the highlight! Thanks for the photos!

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