Upper Crusters

Upper Crusters

Upper Crusters

Penny de los Santos

My grandma's kitchen cabinets were full of ceramic knickknacks that included everything from a frog to a man sitting on an outhouse toilet. I used to think the sculptures, which she bought at antiques stores and on eBay, were just decorative, but one day she set me straight. They were pie birds, she explained—hollow sculptures used for making two-crust pies. When you planted one at the center of a pie with its head poking through the top crust, it vented steam, preventing the filling from bubbling over. It also kept the upper crust crisp by raising it up and away from the filling. Pie birds evolved from funnel-shaped piecrust lifters, invented in 19th-century England. In the 1930s, when an Australian potter patented one in the shape of a blackbird, these tools came to be called pie birds. Despite their name, they can take any shape. My own budding collection includes a cardinal and a chef. They sit on my kitchen windowsill, a whimsical enticement to bake.