pie

June–Coconut Cream Pie

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Just like the blues, Caribbean music owes much of its power to African rhythms brought to the New World by slaves–in this case, slaves imported to work on the sugar cane plantations.

Rum was a by-product of the sugar-making process, and I knew this pie had to have rum. Who can think of the islands without thinking of coconuts? But most recipes for coconut cream pie omit that crucial ingredient.

I finally found what I was looking for in a Caribbean cookbook I bought long ago at a flea market. It’s from the Time-Life series, a wonderful cookbook series dating from decades ago, when travel and exotic menus weren’t such an easy part of our lives as they are now. Nearly every cuisine you can name is represented in the series, and each gets two books—a big hardcover with pictures of food and festivals, plus recipes, and a small spiral-bound booklet with even more recipes.

I have quite a collection of these cookbooks, assembled from garage sales, flea markets, and used-book stores. Usually I find either the big hardcover or the small booklet first, then have the thrill of finding the missing half of the set at some whole other venue.

Anyway, the Time-Life version of the pie is very labor-intensive, so I invented a variation that uses the same flavorings—dark rum, nutmeg, and vanilla—but substitutes boxed pudding mix.

The crust is a variation on one we’ve used before—very flaky and rich with butter AND lard.

Crust:

1-1/2 cups flour
6 tablespoons butter, very cold, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons lard, very cold, cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
4 to 6 tablespoons ice water

Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl and add the butter and lard. Use two knives scissor fashion or your fingers to mix the flour mixture and the shortening together till the result looks like coarse meal.

Add 4 tablespoons of ice water, one at a time, tossing the mixture with a fork till it clings together. Add more ice water if necessary. Flour your hands and gather the mixture into a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate it for ½ hour or more.

When you are ready to roll it out, flour your rolling surface and rolling pin. Pat the dough gently into a circle an inch thick or even thinner—this makes it easier to keep a circular shape when you begin to roll. Make sure to use plenty of flour and rotate the dough from time to time, sprinkling more flour underneath to make sure it doesn’t stick to your rolling surface.

When you’ve shaped it roughly into a circle large enough for your pie pan, fold it into quarters and gently transfer it to the pan, unfolding it and smoothing it to fit. Trim the edges, if necessary, so you have only an extra half inch all around. Now tuck the overhanging crust under. To make a fancy edge like in the picture, place the index and middle finger of one hand on the edge pointing out and with half an inch between them. Use the thumb of the other hand to push a little ridge into the dough, working your way all around the edge of the pie doing the same thing.  Prick the bottom and sides of the crust with a fork.

Bake the empty crust at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, then check on it and pat the dough down if it’s starting to puff up. Bake it for an additional 10 minutes or more. It should be starting to turn slightly brown when you take it out. (You’ll be baking the pie again to brown the meringue so you don’t want the edges of the crust to get too brown now.)

Let it cool while you make the filling.

Filling:

1 box Jell-O “cook & serve” vanilla pudding and pie filling—not instant
2 cups milk
1 cup “sweetened flake coconut”—from the aisle of the grocery store where you find flour and other baking supplies
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons dark rum
½ teaspoon nutmeg

Bring the milk and pudding mix to a full boil, stirring all the while. Turn off the heat and add the coconut and other ingredients. Let the pudding mixture cool on top of the stove while you make the meringue.  Stir the mixture occasionally. 

Meringue Topping:

4 egg whites
6 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon cream of tartar

Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until the egg whites are frothy, then slowly add the sugar, beating all the while. After a minute or two, the egg whites should become quite stiff. Continue beating until stiff peaks remain if you remove the beaters.

Meringue can be tricky. To make sure you aren’t beating a soupy mess forever instead of getting the result you want, make sure the beaters are perfectly clean and there are no specks of egg yolk or shell in your egg whites before you start. You can scoop extraneous objects out with a spoon. 

Turn the pudding mixture into the pie shell.  Spread the meringue over the top.  Make sure the meringue touches the inner edge of the crust–it has a tendency to shrink while it bakes and this will keep you from having bare spots around the edges of your pie. 

Bake the pie at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until the meringue turns a delicate brown.  Let the pie cool a bit and then refrigerate it.  Serve it cold, and refrigerate the leftovers.

PeggyJune–Coconut Cream Pie
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May–Strawberry Fields Pie

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A slice of Strawberry Fields Pie

A slice of Strawberry Fields Pie

“Strawberry Fields Forever” isn’t the blusiest of tunes, though the Beatles certainly owe a debt to the blues tradition. But please indulge me . . .

These early summer days are perfect strawberry weather, and for me strawberries always evoke those moments when time stands still and life seems unbearably sweet. There were more of them in the sixties than there have been lately, and music was always a part of them. How appropriate that the John Lennon memorial in Central Park is Strawberry Fields.

I’ve been making this pie since I was in high school. One of my friends taught me how, and when I make it I still pull out the postcard she sent me in 1965 when I wrote to her from college asking her to remind me of the details.

The beautiful thing about this pie is that the strawberries don’t end up being cooked, so they taste as sweet and fresh as if you were picking them yourself and eating them as you went along.

Prepare the crust well in advance so it’s cool by the time you add the filling.

Crust:

1-1/4 cup sifted flour

1/3 + 1 heaping tablespoon shortening

1/2 teaspoon + 1 pinch salt

1/6 cup cold water + extra

Sift the dry ingredients together, then cut the shortening in using two knives scissors style. The shortening shouldn’t be completely blended or the crust will be tough. You want bits of shortening, no larger than lentils, to remain because they melt as the crust bakes and make the crust flaky.

Next, sprinkle the water over the flour, salt, shortening mixture and use a fork to toss and blend. Use more water if necessary, but only a little bit at a time. The dough should be moist enough to adhere together in a ball, but not sticky. Form the dough into a flat patty, using plenty of flour on your hands, then roll it out. Use plenty of flour on your rolling surface and rolling pin too. Turn the dough frequently as you roll it out, and sprinkle with more flour, so it doesn’t stick to the rolling surface.

When you’ve shaped it roughly into a circle large enough for your pie pan, fold it into quarters and gently transfer it to the pan, unfolding it and smoothing it to fit. Trim the edges, if necessary, so you have only an extra half inch all around. Now tuck the overhanging crust under. To make a fancy edge like in the picture, place the index and middle finger of one hand on the edge pointing out and with half an inch between them. Use the thumb of the other hand to push a little ridge into the dough, working your way all around the edge of the pie doing the same thing.

Prick the bottom and sides of the crust and bake it at 450 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes or until it turns a nice golden color.

Filling:

1 box strawberry jello

1 ¾ cups cold water

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon vanilla

16 oz. fresh strawberries = 1 pint

Whipping cream

Wash the strawberries, remove the stems, and slice the berries. If they are really huge, as strawberries tend to be these days, cut them in half lengthwise before you slice them.

Bring the jello, water, cornstarch, and vanilla to a boil, then take it off the heat and let it cool to room temperature. If you’re in a hurry, you can refrigerate it, but don’t let it set up. Add the strawberries and pour the jello-berry mixture into the cooled pie shell.

Chill the pie till the jello is firm—two hours is usually enough.

Serve the pie topped with sweetened whipped cream.

Next month: Coconut Cream Pie

PeggyMay–Strawberry Fields Pie
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April–Rhubarb Custard Pie

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I promised a custard pie this month. The blues purists will be horrified, but my blues connection is Led Zeppelin’s “Custard Pie,” in all its sexual innuendo-laden glory. In creating it, they reached back to wonderful Delta tunes like Sleepy John Estes’ “Drop Down Mama,” Bukka White’s “Shake ‘Em On Down,” and Blind Boy Fuller’s “I Want Some of Your Pie.”

Like Led Zeppelin, I added something to the mix. In my case, it’s rhubarb. And the custard effect results from the combination of eggs, sugar, and rhubarb juices, rather than from eggs and milk.

When my husband was growing up, his family had a rhubarb plant in their yard, and one of his earliest cooking experiments was rhubarb pie. Now rhubarb is hard to find. We’ve tried several times to grow it but it doesn’t thrive in a yard overshadowed by huge trees.

Most grocery stores ignore it these days. Who’d want rhubarb when you can buy any fruit or vegetable you want all year round? In earlier times, rhubarb would have been appreciated as one of the first fresh growing things available in the spring.

I tracked mine down at the fancy Whole Foods store, an hour round trip for me because of New Jersey traffic, and $5.95 a pound!

Crust:

It’s the standard crust we’ve used before so I’m recycling the instructions from earlier pies:

 

1 cup sifted flour

1/3 cup shortening

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/6 cup cold water

OR

1-1/4 cup sifted flour

1/3 + 1 heaping tablespoon shortening

1/2 teaspoon + 1 pinch salt

1/6 cup cold water + extra

I’ve discovered that increasing the ingredients slightly makes it easier to roll out a nice piece of dough that fits the pan with no thin spots around the edges.

Sift the dry ingredients together, then cut the shortening in using two knives scissors style. The shortening shouldn’t be completely blended or the crust will be tough. You want bits of shortening, no larger than lentils, to remain because they melt as the crust bakes and make the crust flaky.

Next, sprinkle the water over the flour, salt, shortening mixture and use a fork to toss and blend. Use more water if necessary, but only a little bit at a time. The dough should be moist enough to adhere together in a ball, but not sticky. Form the dough into a flat patty, using plenty of flour on your hands, then roll it out. Use plenty of flour on your rolling surface and rolling pin too. Turn the dough frequently as you roll it out, and sprinkle it with more flour, so it doesn’t stick to the rolling surface.

When you’ve shaped it roughly into a circle large enough for your pie pan, fold it into quarters and gently transfer it to the pan, unfolding it and smoothing it to fit. Trim the edges, if necessary, so you have only an extra half inch all around. Now tuck the overhanging crust under. To make a fancy edge like in the picture, place the index and middle finger of one hand on the edge pointing out and with half an inch between them. Use the thumb of the other hand to push a little ridge into the dough, working your way all around the edge of the pie doing the same thing.

If you want to speed things up, you can use a prepared crust. I’ve discovered that the frozen crusts that come in their own little aluminum pie pans work very well. They are surprisingly flaky, and the only giveaway that they are not home-made is that the decorative edge is a bit too regular. I’ve also tried the prepared crusts that are sold in the refrigerator case, already shaped to go into your own pie pan and then curled up into long rolls that you unroll. Those are not so good.

Filling:

3 beaten eggs

1 ½ cups of sugar

¼ teaspoon of nutmeg

A pinch of salt

4 cups of rhubarb, cut into half-inch chunks

Mix the filling well and spoon it into the prepared crust, smoothing it out evenly. Bake the pie at 400 degrees for 45 minutes or until the crust is nicely browned and the custard isn’t runny.

It’s great with vanilla ice cream.

Next month: My childhood strawberry pie

PeggyApril–Rhubarb Custard Pie
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March–Key (to the Highway) Lime Pie

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The cloth is from a huge open-air market in Accra.

The cloth is from a huge open-air market in Accra.

I picked this pie for March with a nod to St. Patrick’s Day because when we think of limes, we think–GREEN.

Except key limes are yellow and that’s part of the story behind Key Lime Pie. It’s an American classic, and like many great recipes is a result of making do with the ingredients at hand. Key limes are unpromising little things, smaller than golf balls, and probably introduced to the Florida Keys when the Spanish came in the 1500s. Sweetened condensed milk is used because before the 1930s, the Keys had no fresh milk, no refrigeration, and no ice. Canned sweetened condensed milk had been around since 1856 and was a great boon to dessert-lovers.

“Key to the Highway” is a great blues song. I doubt whether the highway to the Keys is the one the song’s creators had in mind, but that road does lead south–about as far south as one can go in the US.

You will probably not be able to get key limes; they are even hard to find in Florida now. But the pie turns out great with ordinary grocery-store limes. 

Crust:

1 ¼ cups graham cracker crumbs = 9 whole (rectangular) crackers

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup butter

Mix the crumbs, butter, and sugar with your fingers till it’s all very well blended and looks like damp sand. Press it into your pie pan, working it up the sides with your fingers or the back of a spoon. Use your thumb to make a smooth edge at the top. Bake it for 10 minutes at 375 degrees. Let it cool while you make the filling. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees.

You can use a grocery-store graham cracker crust instead—you’ll find them in the aisle with boxed cake mixes.

Filling:

5 egg yolks

1 cup sweetened condensed milk

½ cup lime juice = 4 medium limes

1 teaspoon grated lime rind = 2 limes

Grate the rind before you cut the limes in half to squeeze them. It’s much easier to keep a good grip on a whole lime. Beat the egg yolks till they are light yellow. Add the other ingredients slowly and beat on lower speed just to mix. Pour the mixture into the crust and bake for 15 to 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Let it cool while you make the topping. Turn the oven up to 425 degrees.

Meringue topping:

5 egg whites

1 cup sugar

½ teaspoon cream of tartar

Beat the egg whites till they are frothy. Add the sugar and cream of tartar a little at a time, continuing to beat till the whites are very stiff.

Meringue can be a challenge to make. Be sure that your bowl and beaters are perfectly clean and that your egg whites are room temperature. If there are any specks of yolk or shell in the whites, it will be hard to get them stiff and you might have to beat them a very long time. You can pick yolk and shell out with a spoon or the corner of a paper towel.

Cover the pie with the meringue, making sure that it comes all the way to the edges. Otherwise it will shrink while cooking and you will have bare spots. Bake the pie at 425 degrees for 5 to 15 minutes or until the meringue is lightly browned. Oven temperatures vary greatly so keep your eye on things to monitor how brown the pie is getting.

Chill the pie before serving.

Next month: Custard Pie

PeggyMarch–Key (to the Highway) Lime Pie
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February–Cherry Pie

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Can she bake a cherry pie?

Can she bake a cherry pie?

Cherry Pie is traditional for February because of Washington’s Birthday, but this month’s pie was inspired by Miles Davis too.

The ancient children’s song, “Billy Boy,” includes a verse that starts with the line, “Can she bake a cherry pie, Billy Boy Billy Boy . . .” (Here’s a link for the song.)  

What’s the Miles Davis connection? Milestones, the 1958 album from Miles’s bebop period, includes an instrumental version of the tune—such a tribute to the playfulness and inventiveness of that art form, to start with a children’s song and improvise it into one of the most out-there tunes ever recorded.

Now . . . a note on the pie itself:

I found the recipe for this crust in an out-of-the-way cookbook. You’ll notice that the proportion of shortening (vegetable shortening and butter) to flour is much greater than the proportion in conventional pie crust. This makes the crust hard to handle, and I ended up with a pie that is not as photogenic as some of my previous ones.

In fact I was going to start over with a new batch of filling and a crust made with the standard two-thirds cup shortening to two cups flour, but my husband and I each had a piece of the pie for dessert. We continued to nibble to the point that I was afraid there would be no pie left to photograph unless I grabbed the camera fast, so I decided to use this crust. It may not be very photogenic, but it is incredibly rich and flaky. 

Crust:

3 cups flour

½ teaspoon salt

¾ cup vegetable shortening

¾ cup butter, in little pieces

cold water

Sift the flour and salt together into a medium-sized bowl. Cut the shortening and butter in with two knives, scissor fashion, or use a food processor with the normal blades. If you’re using a food processor, return the mixture to the bowl afterwards.

Now add cold water a tablespoon at a time, tossing the mixture with a fork till it starts to cling together. You might need anywhere from three to six tablespoons of water, or more, but don’t add more till you’re sure you need it. You don’t want your dough to become gummy—you just want it to cling together so you can form it into a ball.

With floured hands, knead the dough together but don’t handle it too much. Divide it into two portions, one a bit bigger than the other, and pat them into flat rounds. If you have time, chill them for twenty minutes or so before you try to roll them out.

All the shortening in this recipe makes the dough very fragile and chilling it helps it hold together. Whether you chill or not, you’ll find that you end up with a crust that’s a bit thicker than with a normal pie crust because it’s very hard to roll this rich dough thin without having it fall apart.

Roll out the larger piece of dough and use it to line your pie pan, patting it into place. Trim the edges so you have a half-inch overhang. Add the cherry filling.

Filling:

3 15-ounce cans pitted dark sweet cherries in heavy syrup, drained

¼ cup sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon nutmeg

Mix together gently before spooning into the bottom crust.

Roll out the smaller piece of dough and lay it over the top of the pie. Trim the edges to match the bottom crust. Press the top and bottom crusts together and tuck the overhanging crust under all the way around.

To make a fancy edge like in the picture, place the index and middle finger of your left hand on the edge pointing out and with half an inch between them. Use the thumb of your right hand to push a little ridge into the dough, working your way all around the edge of the pie doing the same thing. You’ll have better luck getting a nice edge to form if you have chilled your dough before working with it.

Bake the pie at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until the crust is golden and looks thoroughly done.

Vanilla ice cream probably isn’t necessary but it’s a great addition.

Coming next month: Key to the Highway Lime Pie

PeggyFebruary–Cherry Pie
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January–Inauguration Sweet Potato Pie

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I used the lighter-colored sweet potatoes.

I used the lighter-colored sweet potatoes.

Sweet Potato Pie was reportedly President Obama’s favorite pie, and it’s one of my favorites too. I first posted this recipe the year he was inaugurated.

I first tasted Sweet Potato Pie during the student protests at San Francisco State University when I was a student there in the Sixties. Students were boycotting classes, spending their days marching with picket signs. One day a group of African-American students showed up with a gift of sweet potato turnovers—easier to eat while marching than an actual piece of pie. Those were heady times, and knowing black people as friends was an exotic experience for someone with my sheltered middle-class background.

Recipes for Sweet Potato Pie often say to use sweet potatoes or yams. But a true yam would be hard to come by in the U.S. The yam is an African staple, totally unrelated to the sweet potato, which is a New World plant.

When I was in Ghana studying percussion some years ago, I had the wonderful experience of watching people from the village plant a yam field, complete with work songs. The yam is such an important foodstuff in some parts of Africa that whole festivals revolve around it.

The U.S. has two varieties of sweet potato, however, one of which more closely resembles certain varieties of the African yam. The lighter-colored sweet potato is just that—a sweet potato, with a starchy potato-like texture. But there’s an orange-brown sweet potato with a moister texture and a sweeter taste. It’s often (mistakenly) referred to as a yam.

Sweet Potato Pie is such a staple of soul food that it’s tempting to suppose Africans transplanted to the U.S. recognized in the sweet potato a vegetable analogous to the yams they had known at home.

Crust:

This is the same crust that we’ve used for some of the other pies.

1 cup sifted flour
1/3 cup shortening
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/6 cup cold water

OR

1-1/4 cup sifted flour
1/3 + 1 heaping tablespoon shortening
1/2 teaspoon + 1 pinch salt
1/6 cup cold water + extra

I’ve discovered that increasing the ingredients slightly makes it easier to roll out a nice piece of dough that fits the pan with no thin spots around the edges.

Sift the dry ingredients together, then cut the shortening in using two knives scissors style. The shortening shouldn’t be completely blended or the crust will be tough. You want bits of shortening, no larger than lentils, to remain because they melt as the crust bakes and make the crust flaky.

Next, sprinkle the water over the flour, salt, shortening mixture and use a fork to toss and blend. Use more water if necessary, but only a little bit at a time. The dough should be moist enough to adhere together in a ball, but not sticky. Form the dough into a flat patty, using plenty of flour on your hands, then roll it out. Use plenty of flour on your rolling surface and rolling pin too. Turn the dough frequently as you roll it out, and sprinkle with more flour, so it doesn’t stick to the rolling surface.

When you’ve shaped it roughly into a circle large enough for your pie pan, fold it into quarters and gently transfer it to the pan, unfolding it and smoothing it to fit. Trim the edges, if necessary, so you have only an extra half inch all around. Now tuck the overhanging crust under. To make a fancy edge like in the picture, place the index and middle finger of one hand on the edge pointing out and with half an inch between them. Use the thumb of the other hand to push a little ridge into the dough, working your way all around the edge of the pie doing the same thing.

And remember that the frozen crusts that come in their own aluminum pans work fine.

Filling:

2 cups cooked sweet potatoes or “yams”
1/2 cup melted butter
2 eggs, separated
1 1/4 cup sugar—but I’ve seen versions that use as little as ½ cup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
3/4 cup sour cream

When I make this pie, I cook the sweet potatoes by baking rather than boiling. They can end up with too much moisture in them if you boil them and then your pie won’t set up nicely. I start with two large sweet potatoes and have more than enough. The amount of time you bake them depends on the size, but allow at least an hour at 400 degrees—be sure to poke the tops in several places with a fork or sharp knife. Otherwise they will explode in the oven and you’ll have a huge mess. Don’t poke the bottoms though or sweet juice will leak out and burn in your oven, also making a huge mess.

Scrape the cooked potato out of the shells, measure out 2 cups, and mash it thoroughly. Combine it with the butter, egg yolks, 1 cup of the sugar, the salt and spices, and the sour cream, blending very well. I use my electric mixer for this step.

Beat the egg whites slightly, add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, and continue beating till they are stiff. Fold them into the sweet potato combination and pour it all into your unbaked pie shell. Bake 10 minutes at 400 degrees, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake 30 more minutes, or until the edge is nicely browned but not burned and the filling does not wobble. You can also pat the top to make sure the filling has set up.

I serve it with slightly sweetened whipped cream.

Next month: A cherry pie inspired by a Miles Davis tune, and maybe George Washington too.

PeggyJanuary–Inauguration Sweet Potato Pie
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December–Ma Rainey’s Black-Bottom Pie

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Ma Rainey’s Black-Bottom Pie

Ma Rainey’s Black-Bottom Pie

The rock and roll of the 1950’s wasn’t the first example of African-American music and dance influencing mainstream culture. When young people scandalized their parents by dancing the Charleston and the Black Bottom in the 1920’s, they were borrowing both the moves and the music from Black people. The Black Bottom eventually became even more popular than the Charleston. It inspired Jelly Roll Morton’s “Black Bottom Stomp” and Ma Rainey’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” which in turn inspired August Wilson’s play, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.

 

Ma Rainey, whose given name was Gertrude, lived from 1886 to 1939. She was one of the first professional blues singers and one of the first to record her work.

Black-Bottom Pie, probably named after the dance, is a two-layer pie, three if you count the whipped cream. It dates from an era before ice-cream was as cheap and readily available as it is now. People had to satisfy their cravings for cold, sweet, creamy things by eating puddings and custards. Essentially this is a custard pie, with chocolate added to half the custard to form the “black bottom.”

Crust:

This pie has a crumb crust, analogous to the graham-cracker crust we used for the Mississippi Banana Cream Pie. But instead of graham crackers, it uses what the old-fashioned recipes call “chocolate wafers.” I made a diligent search for chocolate wafers, but they seem to have been crowded off modern supermarket shelves by much more elaborate and caloric cookies.

A moist chocolate cookie won’t work for this recipe, as I discovered by trying to substitute Chocolate Chocolate Chip cookies for chocolate wafers. The cookie has to be as dry as a graham cracker, but chocolate. When I discovered that Oreo makes a ready-made chocolate-crumb crust that sits right next to the ready-made graham-cracker crusts in the cake-mix aisle, I realized that if I was determined to make a chocolate-crumb crust from scratch, I should just start with Oreos. So that’s what I did. But even so, it’s very hard to produce a crust that holds up well when the pie is sliced, so unless you are a determined purist, I recommend the ready-made crust.

If you want to make your own . . .

30 whole Oreos, opened up and with the frosting removed.

6 tablespoons butter, melted

1/4 cup sugar

Use your food processor to reduce the Oreo halves, of which you will have 60, to fine crumbs. Mix the crumbs, butter, and sugar in a small bowl. Turn the result out into a pie pan and use a spoon to press it firmly to the bottom and sides, holding your thumb along the top to create a nice edge as you work on the sides. It’s important to press down very firmly with the spoon if you want your pie to cut into tidy slices.

Bake the crust at 350 degrees for 10 minutes and let it cool while you prepare the filling.

Filling:

1 1/2 cups milk

1 envelope gelatin

1/2 cup sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

4 egg yolks

3 egg whites

2 oz. unsweetened chocolate (generally comes in 1/2 oz. pieces)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon rum

1/2 cup whipping cream

Put the milk in a saucepan, add the gelatin, and let it sit for a few minutes. Add the sugar, salt, and yolks and blend thoroughly. I used a wire whisk. Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring with a spoon, until it gets thick (about like a thick cream soup), but don’t let it boil. It is now custard.

Divide the custard between two bowls, one large enough to later accommodate three beaten egg whites too. Melt 1 1/2 oz. of the chocolate and add it to the custard in the smaller bowl, along with the vanilla. Mix well. Add the rum to the custard in the larger bowl. Mix well. Chill both bowls 45 minutes to an hour. The custard should now form a small mound if you scoop up a spoonful and deposit it back in the bowl it came from.

Beat the egg whites until they are stiff and fold them into the custard in the larger bowl. Note that these egg whites will be essentially raw in your finished pie. This is an old-fashioned recipe and back then people worried less about raw egg whites than they do now.

Turn the chocolate custard into the pie pan containing the crumb crust and smooth it out nicely. Add the custard-egg white mixture and smooth it over the chocolate layer.

Whip the cream and smooth it over the top of the whole thing. Chop or grate the remaining 1/2 oz. of chocolate and sprinkle it attractively on top of your pie.

Refrigerate the pie until you are ready to eat it, at least an hour, and be sure to store the leftovers in the refrigerator.

Next month: Sweet Potato Pie

adminDecember–Ma Rainey’s Black-Bottom Pie
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November–Freedom Pecan-Chocolate Chip Pie

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The cloth is an Indian patchwork made from worn-out saris.

The cloth is an Indian patchwork made from worn-out saris.

This pie was inspired by a delicious dessert my husband and I ate on a trip to Waterville, Maine. For the last several hours of the journey, we drove through a nor’easter—I didn’t know nor’easters occurred in the summer, but they do. By the time we reached our hotel, it was after nine o’clock and we were cold, tired, and starving. When we asked about local restaurants, a woman at the desk referred us to the Freedom Café.

We showed up so late that the only people in the place were the owner and the staff, chatting as they tidied up from that evening’s meal. But the owner, a beautiful African-American woman, greeted us warmly. In fact the whole place was warm, decorated in bright and rich colors that made us forget how chilly we were. “I don’t know if there’s much left,” she said, “but I can try to make up plates for you.” Indeed she did—we had barbecued ribs, bowls of gumbo, rice, macaroni and cheese, vegetables, and salad. When it came time for dessert, we were so stuffed we at first turned down her offer of pie. “Oh, but it’s part of the dinner,” she said.

“Well, in that case, we’ll share a piece,” we said. So out came a divine pecan pie with chocolate as the secret ingredient.

I’ve tried to recreate it here.

Crust:

Freedom Pecan-Chocolate Chip Pie is a one-crust pie just like last month’s Big Mama Thornton Apple Pie, so I’m recycling the instructions for the crust—including advice about grocery-store crusts if you don’t want to make your own.

1 cup sifted flour

1/3 cup shortening

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/6 cup cold water

OR

1-1/4 cup sifted flour

1/3 + 1 heaping tablespoon shortening

1/2 teaspoon + 1 pinch salt

1/6 cup cold water + extra

I’ve discovered that increasing the ingredients slightly makes it easier to roll out a nice piece of dough that fits the pan with no thin spots around the edges.

Sift the dry ingredients together, then cut the shortening in using two knives scissors style. The shortening shouldn’t be completely blended or the crust will be tough. You want bits of shortening, no larger than lentils, to remain because they melt as the crust bakes and make the crust flaky.

Next, sprinkle the water over the flour, salt, shortening mixture and use a fork to toss and blend. Use more water if necessary, but only a little bit at a time. The dough should be moist enough to adhere together in a ball, but not sticky. Form the dough into a flat patty, using plenty of flour on your hands, then roll it out. Use plenty of flour on your rolling surface and rolling pin too. Turn the dough frequently as you roll it out, and sprinkle it with more flour, so it doesn’t stick to the rolling surface.

When you’ve shaped it roughly into a circle large enough for your pie pan, fold it into quarters and gently transfer it to the pan, unfolding it and smoothing it to fit. Trim the edges, if necessary, so you have only an extra half inch all around. Now tuck the overhanging crust under.

I made a different fancy edge for this pie. To make one like it, take a fork with long thin tines and work your way around the edge of the pie, pressing the tines into the dough.

If you want to speed things up, you can use a prepared crust. I’ve discovered that the frozen crusts that come in their own little aluminum pie pans work very well. They are surprisingly flaky, and the only giveaway that they are not home-made is that the decorative edge is a bit too regular. I’ve also tried the prepared crusts that are sold in the refrigerator case, already shaped to go into your own pie pan and then curled up into long rolls that you unroll. Those are not so good. I made an earlier version of this pie with one and the crust was very tough, not flaky at all.

Filling:

1 ¼ cups dark corn syrup

1 cup sugar

4 eggs

4 tablespoons melted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons dark rum—I’ve made pecan pies with Jack Daniel’s and that works fine too

1 ½ cups chopped pecans

1 cup chocolate chips

1 cup whipping cream

For the chocolate chips, I used Ghirardelli bittersweet chips: 60% cacao, according to the package. They worked really well.

Bring corn syrup and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan and cook, stirring, just until the sugar dissolves. You will know when this has happened because the mixture will become clear.

In a medium-sized bowl, beat the eggs. Add the syrup mixture slowly, still beating. Add the butter, vanilla, and rum, and beat a few more seconds. Now mix in the pecans and chocolate chips using a big spoon.
Pour the filling into the pie shell and bake at 350 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes. The crust around the edge should look done but not too brown.

Serve it with unsweetened whipped cream.

My husband and I had our first slices while the pie was still warm and the chocolate chips were melted. It was delicious that way, but when the pie is cool it’s good too—almost better, because the chocolate chips congeal again, and encountering them is like coming upon bits of candy in the softer texture of the corn syrup-based filling.
Next month: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Pie

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October–Big Mama Thornton Apple Pie

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Big Mama Thornton Apple Pie with Streusel Topping.

Big Mama Thornton Apple Pie with Streusel Topping.

Fall is the time for apples, whether you buy them at a farm stand or at the supermarket. This pie was inspired by a Big Mama Thornton song, “Swing It on Home”. It’s the theme song of the band in Sweet Man Is Gone, and the opening verse goes like this:

I wish I was an apple
Hangin’ from a tree
Have all the sweet little men
Reachin’ after me.
What woman wouldn’t like that?

The special twist this time is that instead of a top crust the pie has a brown-sugar cinnamon streusel topping. The sweetness and almost crunchy texture of the topping contrasts wonderfully with the tartness and smoothness of the baked apple slices.

The pie pan is an old-fashioned tin one I found in an antique store in Maine. You can’t see it in the photo, but the bottom is embossed with these words:

NEW ENGLAND
FLAKY CRUST PIE
10¢ dep.
TABLE TALK

I found a similar one at a garage sale in New Jersey, where I live, except it was a CALIFORNIA PIE and the deposit was only 5¢. It seems that in the past pies came in returnable pie pans, something like the way milk was delivered in returnable glass bottles when I was a child. I don’t know how the CALIFORNIA PIE pan made it all the way to New Jersey, but in the interests of repatriating it, I gave it to my sister, who lives in West Hollywood.

On to the pie. . .

Crust:

1 cup sifted flour

1/3 cup shortening

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/6 cup cold water

OR

1-1/4 cup sifted flour

1/3 + 1 heaping tablespoon shortening

1/2 teaspoon + 1 pinch salt

1/6 cup cold water + extra

I’ve discovered that increasing the ingredients slightly makes it easier to roll out a nice piece of dough that fits the pan with no thin spots around the edges.

Sift the dry ingredients together, then cut the shortening in using two knives scissors style. The shortening shouldn’t be completely blended or the crust will be tough. You want bits of shortening, no larger than lentils, to remain because they melt as the crust bakes and make the crust flaky.

Next, sprinkle the water over the flour, salt, shortening mixture and use a fork to toss and blend. Use more water if necessary, but only a little bit at a time. The dough should be moist enough to adhere together in a ball, but not sticky. Form the dough into a flat patty, using plenty of flour on your hands, then roll it out. Use plenty of flour on your rolling surface and rolling pin too. Turn the dough frequently as you roll it out, and sprinkle with more flour, so it doesn’t stick to the rolling surface.

When you’ve shaped it roughly into a circle large enough for your pie pan, fold it into quarters and gently transfer it to the pan, unfolding it and smoothing it to fit. Trim the edges, if necessary, so you have only an extra half inch all around. Now tuck the overhanging crust under. To make a fancy edge like in the picture, place the index and middle finger of one hand on the edge pointing out and with half an inch between them. Use the thumb of the other hand to push a little ridge into the dough, working your way all around the edge of the pie doing the same thing.

Here’s another method for blending the dry ingredients with the shortening, suggested to me by Theresa de Valence after she read my recipe for Eat-a-Peach Pie (August): the blending can be done in a food processor using the normal blade. Theresa uses this method when she makes a pie crust with butter instead of shortening, as I did with the peach pie. I tried the method with regular shortening, taking the precaution of chilling the shortening first, and it worked fine. It speeds the process up a bit.

If you really want to speed things up, you can use a prepared crust. I’ve done a little experimenting and discovered that the frozen crusts that come in their own little aluminum pie pans work very well. They are surprisingly flaky, and the only giveaway that they are not home made is that the decorative edge is a bit too regular, unlike the effect made by real fingers. I’ve also tried the prepared crusts that are sold in the refrigerator case, already shaped to go into your own pie pan and then curled up into long rolls that you unroll. Those are not so good. I made an earlier version of this pie with one and the crust was very tough, not flaky at all.

Filling:

Be sure to use firm, tart apples, the tarter the better. Granny Smiths work fine. I used Macouns for the first version, with the ready-made crust. They are billed as “pie apples,” but the Granny Smiths I used the second time contrasted better with the streusel topping.

5 cups sliced apples = 6 to 7 apples

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons flour

4 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Mix all ingredients, adding lemon juice first, and pile in the prepared pie crust, smoothing out so the top is level.

Streusel Topping:

1/2 cup flour

6 tablespoons brown sugar

4 tablespoons chilled butter

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Blend all ingredients well. If you used the food processor for the crust, you can use it for the topping as well. Otherwise, use two knives scissors fashion. The butter should be very well blended so that the mixture resembles coarse sand.

Spoon the topping over the apple filling, smoothing it out into an even layer.

Bake the pie at 425 degrees for ten minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake for 35 to 40 minutes more, or until the crust is evenly browned.

I served it with heavy cream, not whipped, but several of my guests opted to have it plain and said it tasted very good.

Next month: A pecan-chocolate pie inspired by a wonderful dessert my husband and I ate at a soul-food restaurant in Maine.

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September–Mississippi Banana Cream Pie

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The Mississippi River runs right through blues territory. It was the artery that carried the cotton crop from the Mississippi Delta to market in Memphis, and it was the means by which exotic crops like bananas made their way from tropical regions into the heartland of the USA.

My brown-speckled pie pan from the Sixth Avenue Flea Market is the same color as the crust.

My brown-speckled pie pan from the Sixth Avenue Flea Market is the same color as the crust.

Bananas weren’t the only crop to make that journey. My father grew up the river town of Quincy, Illinois. His family was in the wholesale grocery business, and their signature product was coffee that they ground themselves, but the beans came up the Mississippi River. The Kohl Grocery building that I remember visiting as a child was a multi-story red brick structure near the docks. It was fondly referred to as “the bean mill” and the whole place smelled of fresh-ground coffee.

 

But to get back to the bananas. Mississippi Banana Cream Pie is an old-fashioned icebox pie, a hot-weather recipe. September can still be hot enough for a recipe like this to appeal, and it can be made with no baking at all if you use a ready-made graham-cracker crust from the grocery store. At my ShopRite, these are found in the same aisle with boxed cake mixes. When I made the pie recently, though, I made my own crust.

Crust:

1 2/3 cups graham-cracker crumbs = 11 1/2 whole graham crackers (rectangles)

1/4 cup sugar

1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted

Stir ingredients together and transfer to pie pan. Use your fingers to press the crumbs over the bottom and up the sides of the pie pan and to shape a nice edge. Bake the crust for 8 minutes at 350 degrees. Let it cool before you add the filling.

Filling:

8 oz. cream cheese, allowed to soften

14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk

1 1/2 cups whipping cream

1 3-1/8 oz. package vanilla instant pudding mix

1/4 cup powdered sugar—this results in a very sweet filling. You can mix the first four ingredients and taste the result, then add less sugar to taste if you wish.

3 bananas

Beat the cheese and milk together until they are creamy, add 1/2 cup whipping cream and the pudding mix and beat until everything is blended and smooth. Add all or part of the powdered sugar to reach the sweetness you like.

Spoon half the mixture into the cooled crust and smooth it out. Cut all three bananas in half and peel 5 of the halves—save the last one unpeeled till you are ready to use it for the decoration. Slice each banana half into four slices lengthwise. Lay the banana slices on top of the pudding mixture radiating out from the center like spokes, except they will overlap. Spoon the rest of the pudding mixture on top of the bananas and smooth it out. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for two hours or more.

Beat the remaining cup of whipping cream. Use it just as it is, without sugar. The pie is sweet enough. Spoon it around the edge of the pie, making a nice border two or three inches wide. Peel the remaining banana half and cut it into decorative shapes for the center of the pie. Mine ended up looking like something you’d find on the beach at low tide, but you can do anything that strikes your fancy.

Cover and refrigerate the leftovers if there are any. The pie will keep for a few days and the banana taste spreads through the pudding and becomes even more delicious and intense.

Next month: Big Mama Thornton Apple Pie

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