Pie Funnels, Vents & Whistles

Pie Funnels, Vents & Whistles

Sing A Song Of Sixpence It is said that the children´s nursery rhyme Sing A Song Of Sixpence inspired Clarice Cliff to make the blackbird pie funnels.
Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened
The birds began to sing;
Wasn't that a dainty dish,
To set before the king.
The king was in his counting house,
Counting out his money;
The queen was in the parlour,
Eating bread and honey.
The maid was in the garden,
Hanging out the clothes,
When down came a blackbird
And pecked off her nose.
There was such a commotion,
that little Jenny wren
Flew down into the garden,
and put it back again.
Clarice Cliff Blackbird Pie FunnelClarice Cliff added pie blackbirds to her range of ceramics in the mid-1930s. Whilst this was the first British pie bird registered design, it was perhaps not her own original idea because in Australia there was a similar pie blackbird funnel designed by Grace Secombe a few years earlier.
Ceramic Pie FunnelThat said, how many pies today are baked with a little ceramic chimney inside that supports the crust and channels away steam so that hot fillings do not burst out in places where they should not? These ceramic items are also called a pie funnel, a pie vent, or a pie whistle and they do not have to be birds. However, using a little pottery bird with dark feathers and a bright yellow beak is a friendly reminder of the children's nursery rhyme. You are more likely to see these useful pie funnels in a collector’s cabinet than in a pie dish. The pastry crust is less likely to end up drooping or soggy when a pie funnel is doing its bit to help.
All the same, these ceramic funnels are no longer regarded as cookery essentials, which may explain why they have not been around for the past one hundred years. Even Mrs Beeton's comprehensive advice from the 1860s covers all sorts of pastry equipment, but no mention of the humble pie funnel.
Pie funnels appeared around 1880 along with other not-quite-necessary late 1800s kitchen gadgets. Many similar “chimneys”, “crust supports” etc. were patented over the next couple of decades.
Nutbrown Pie Funnels
Nut Brown Pie Funnel
From the 1930s to the 1970s and later, a plain white or yellowish pie funnel was a familiar item in UK homes. The Nutbrown brand did well and its name is stamped on many vintage pie funnels. It is unlikely there was ever a Nutbrown Pottery. Pastry utensils of all kinds came from a company called Thomas (Thos.) M. Nutbrown Ltd, Blackpool, UK, whose range of kitchenware also included many stainless steel items like toast racks, cookie cutters, and can-openers. By the 1980s Nutbrown kitchenware had been absorbed into the Wilkinson Sword group via a company which made scourers and cutlery.
USA Pie Funnels
Pie Ventilator 1891
In the early years of pie funnels, they seem to have been more popular in the UK than in the US. There are few American patents in the twenty-five years after 1880. Probably the first was a “pie-ventilator” from 1891 (see picture) and the next was an 1897 “pie-crust support” patent granted in the US to an Englishman.
Meanwhile, in Britain, dozens of designs were registered, and pie-related businesses distributed simple ceramic funnels complete with their company name.
Improved Popular Pie Funnel
 Grimwade Pie Funnel
Pie Funnel In Use

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