The pies that were forgotten
Old-school creations, born of desperation, deserve place at the table
Chess pie. Shoofly pie. Cream pie. They're the pride of roadside diners and stars at state fairs. Perhaps your grandmother or mother made them. The filling depended on the season. (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune / October 12, 2012)
Chess pie. Shoofly pie. Cream pie. They're the pride of roadside diners and stars at state fairs. Perhaps your grandmother or aunt or mother made them, gently coaxing dough for the crust into a ball, patting it into a circle, rolling the dough from the middle out before slipping it into a much-used pie pan. The filling depended on the season, the baker's creativity and the ingredients at hand.
Flip through old cookbooks and marvel at the clever bakers who sweetened shoofly pie with molasses or baked up vinegar pies, such as those in the 1903 book "A Collection of Choice Recipes. Contributed by the Ladies of Des Moines." It was a time before home freezers, Cool Whip and apples shipped across the country year-round.
Humble pies they are.
"There's a whole category called desperation pies," says Paula Haney, better known as Hoosier Mama to fans of this Indiana native's pies. "It's what you would make on the farm in the winter when all the fruit was gone from storage. There's vinegar pie, which is like a mock lemon meringue; there's chess pie; there's an Amish milk pie that's very much like Hoosier sugar pie. Basically anything on these ingredient lists doesn't sound very exciting, but when you put them together it's amazing."
Simple pies, but oh what sweet memories.
At Back in the Day Bakery in Savannah, Ga., the vintage decor coupled with old-fashioned pies — chess, coconut cream, bourbon pecan — baked by owners Cheryl Day and her husband, Griff, make customers "feel nostalgic for a simpler and sweeter time."
Cheryl understands the power of pie. She told us that while testing a lemon meringue pie (her mother's pride and joy) for "The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook: More Than 100 Recipes from the Best Little Bakery in the South" (Artisan, $24.95): "I was thinking, 'I hope mine's as good as hers,' and it was. And it exactly reminded me of being 8 years old again.
"My mother knew the importance of creating family memories through food. That is something that has always resonated with me and with a lot of people."
Such pies shouldn't be forgotten, of course. But Day, a self-taught baker, thinks "pie fear" may be the reason more people don't bake them at home.
"You can't teach people to put love into their food; that's a secret ingredient," Day says. "If you're having fun and loving it, then you're not going, 'Omigod, this isn't going to come out!' You're going to be OK."
Buttermilk chess pie
Prep: 10 minutes
Bake: 55 minutes
Chill: 2 hours
Makes: One 9-inch pie, 8 servings
Note: Adapted from "The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook," this simple pie with its custardlike filling may be served with fresh berries.
1 1/2 cups sugar