Unique and forgotten, Nesselrode pie was a New York signature in the 1940’s through 1960’s, and holds the appeal of something nostalgic you can’t find anywhere else. This is a pie that quickly blew up the New York food scene, but disappeared completely almost as rapidly as it had arrived. The rise and fall of Nesselrode during the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s can be attributed largely to one woman in particular, so it seems fitting that one woman, Petee’s owner Petra Paredez, is bringing it back.
We owe the former popularity of Nesselrode to Hortense Spier, who began selling the pies out of her brownstone restaurant in New York’s Upper West Side during the 1930’s and 40’s. Nesselrode desserts (named for Russian diplomat Count Karl Nesselrode) were loosely defined but usually took the form of a frozen pudding. Chestnuts, rum or brandy, and candied fruit are identified as the hallmarks of any Nesselrode dessert, but beyond that there is room for interpretation. Spier applied her own technique to the Nesselrode by making it lighter and fluffier with gelatin, yielding a unique texture well-received during the 1950’s. Petra has studied and incorporated this same technique into her rendition of the long forgotten classic.
The Nesselrode that lives on at Petee’s is composed of a mouthwatering fluffy chestnut custard with black rum-soaked cherries and hearty dollops of cream around the perimeter.
Nesselrode became the 1946 equivalent of a modern-day “viral sensation” when the New York Times published Spier’s recipe, and she began distributing her pies to restaurants all over the city for resale. Of course a number of restaurateurs tried to imitate her, but nothing quite compared to the original, and Nesselrode all but disappeared when Spier’s wholesale business closed.
When my parents gave an adult party for their local suburban friends, a Nesselrode pie from the local bakery was one of the treats. I remember the bits of candied citron and other fruits in the rum-laced filling, the whipped cream top and the curls of choco shavings on top of that. Nothing could beat the version my woman makes for my birthday every year. We even call it Birthday Pie, Made with Love. But happy to try Peetee’s!