BACK IN 1667 the Knibb family was given a grant of land below Richmond on the Great River (now known as the James). Ever since, the Knibb family has lived in Virginia. As with many old, established families, a portion of their history lies in food, and especially in their own culinary creations. One such recipe is Knibb Pie, first concocted in the 1860s by Frances Henrietta Bowles Knibb at the family home, "Little Genito" in Goochland County.
The Knibb Pie she created during this time is in reality more of a traditional cobbler, a juicy deep-dish dessert full of fruits and laced with blackberry wine. It celebrates a garden's bounty with layers of sweet potatoes (yes, sweet potatoes), apples, homemade damson plum preserves, homemade pickled pears, brown sugar, spices and homemade blackberry wine.
These days a cook can rely on "store bought" preserves and wine, but she would still have to pickle her own pears to make a completely accurate rendition of the pie. (A search of half a dozen or so specialty grocery stores in the area couldn't locate even one bottle of pickled pears.) But, fortunately, today's descendants of the Knibb family feel no qualms in substituting spiced peaches (which are found in most grocery stores) for the pears whenever their own supply of pickled pears runs low. So other cooks shouldn't worry either.
Knibb Pie is a celebration of the harvest, and in addition is a reward for a provident cook who has "put by" mementos of the summer's bounty. It is a pie that can be made from harvest time all through the bleak midwinter months, as a remembrance of things past: both of the last of the summer's harvest and of an age gone by, particularly if one finds thick cream to pour over it.
The recipe, adapted to modern kitchens, comes from Dorothy Knibb, a local merchant and the granddaughter of the pie's creator. KNIBB PIE (10 to 12 servings) "Short" pasty equal to 4 9-inch pie crusts 6 small to medium-sized sweet potatoes, boiled and peeled 6 tart apples, preferably winesaps, peeled Brown sugar Butter Ground cloves Ground nutmeg 12-ounce jar of seedless damson plum preserves (or seedless grape preserve) Homemade pickled pears (or 4 17-ounce jars of spiced peaches) 3/4 cup blackberry wine (or hot water) 1/2 cup hot water Heavy cream
Line a deep 9-by-12-inch baking dish with a bottom pie crust that hasn't been rolled too thin. Cover the crust with a layer of sweet potatoes sliced 1/4-inch thick, then with a layer of thinly sliced apples. Sift brown sugar over the apples and sweet potatoes, dot with butter, and sprinkle with ground cloves and nutmeg. Next make a layer of damson preserves, than a layer of pickled pears that have been cut into small pieces. If you are using spiced peaches instead, stone (pit) them, and cut them into small pieces.
Repeat the layering process listed above to fill the baking dish comfortably. Note: Don't crowd the pan, because the juices will easily boil over. Pour the blackberry wine over the filling and then add the hot water. (Stop adding the hot water if it is becoming too juicy.) Cover the filling with a top pie crust in which generous-sized holes have been cut to allow steam to escape. Bake immediately in a moderate 350-degree over until the crust is brown, approximately 1 hour. Serve in deep dishes with thick, unwhipped cream poured over each serving.