Pie Birds, the Whimsical Victorian-Era Baking Tool
While you’ve likely heard the nursery rhyme “Sing a Song of Sixpence,” with its “four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie,” it would probably surprise you to find a bird’s head peeking out of your fresh-from-the-oven dessert, whether or not it “began to sing” upon being sliced.
Don’t worry, though—there aren’t live birds in most pies, let alone two dozen. While the rhyme possibly alludes to the trials and tribulations of Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn, it may have served as inspiration for pie birds: hollow ceramic figurines designed to vent steam from the pastries
The precursor to pie birds, known as pie funnels (or vents, or whistles), was developed in the Victorian era in Britain as a tool intended to keep juicy fruit and meat pies from bubbling over and to make for a crispier crust. Back then, bakers put small, ceramic, cylindrical or hourglass-shaped funnels in the center of double-crust pies, to release steam.
Around the 1930s, ceramics companies in the U.S. started taking artistic liberties, likely drawing on the nursery rhyme, and the vents morphed into whimsical birds with open beaks.
The first documented pie bird was a rooster with an S-shaped neck, made by the Pearl China Company in Ohio. In the years that followed, thousands of different iterations were made. Some companies also made similarly styled elephants, giraffes, pigs, dragons, and moustached chefs, among others, but the most popular was the blackbird.