History of Pie Safes

An early type of kitchen cabinet, a pie safe is a freestanding, ventilated cupboard with deep shelves that could accommodate pies and other baked goods. Many antique American pie safes of the 18th and 19th centuries are from areas settled by German immigrants. Woodworkers in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois made these cupboards mainly from soft pine. Although many pie safes and cupboards were homemade, antique pie safes from the mid to late 19th century also can be traced by the maker’s mark if they were manufactured in a factory or workshop.

Artistry and Function

Antique dry sink and cupboard with pies.

An identifying characteristic of a pie safe is the ventilation, which typically is artistic tin punch work in the tin panels of the cupboard doors and sides. The tin often was brightly painted. The punched panels provided air circulation that allowed fresh baked goods to cool, and the ventilation helped prevent mold growth on stored goods. The tin panels were impervious to insects and gnawing rodents, although mice have marked the wood portions of many an antique pie safe.

Cabinet Variations

Similar cabinets evolved, some with glass panels or wire mesh inserts instead of punched tin. Also used as jelly cupboards or for storing other preserved foods, some cabinets were made with solid or louvered door compartments and drawers for storing flour, sugar and bakeware. Practical Hoosier Cabinets became popular kitchen furnishings during the early 20th century -- before built-ins were the norm -- making pie safes old-fashioned.

About the Author

Fern Fischer's print and online work has appeared in publications such as Midwest Gardening, Dolls, Workbasket, Quilts for Today and Cooking Fresh. With a broader focus on organic gardening, health, rural lifestyle, home and family articles, she specializes in topics involving antique and modern quilting, sewing and needlework techniques.