On Cooking Southern: Sweeten the Meal with Simple, Make-Do Pies

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SOUTHERNISM OF THE WEEK
As nice as pie
: A really sweet and kind person… someone we want to be around.

NO EXOTIC INGREDIENTS NEEDED FOR THESE PIES

There was a time when sweet dessert pie was a staple in every household. Homemakers would make up several days’ worth of pies at a time, and store them in the family’s oak pie safe fronted by punched-tin doors.

The dough was kept simple to serve as a tasty platform for the filling, although cooks tended to be prideful — with good reason — about the art of creating light and flakey piecrust. (Click here for my Simple Piecrust – click here. )

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Humble but tasty pies satisfied the family’s sweet tooth at the end of a simple meal. Slices of pie paired with a glass of fresh milk also filled the gaps between meals for hungry workers long before energy-boosting snack food became an American tradition.

Types of pies made depended on the time of year and availability of potential ingredients. For example, berry pies were abundant in spring and early summer. Fruit pies were and still are an essential culinary component of autumn. Preserved mincemeat or custard-based pies traditionally filled the gaps during the early stages of winter.

And then there were the make-do pies. These are the pies that creative cooks crafted from end-of-season staples… pies that were thrown together when the food-storage cellar was all but bare … pies that relied on sweet and tangy flavors of basic staples such as sugar, molasses, honey, flour and vinegar to tickle the taste buds.

One might claim that these were the pies that have sustained our people through lean times since the 19th century. They are worthy of our attention, and every 21st century cook ought to know how to make them. They are so easy and sooooo good.

PIONEER VINEGAR PIE
This is a genuine make-do pie, in the same family as buttermilk pie, Jefferson Davis Pie, or invisible pie (pecan pie without the nuts). This would be a late winter pie, made after all the dried and preserved fruits were used up. Apple cider vinegar adds a tangy hint of fruit to the flavor.

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1 regular piecrust
2 large eggs
1 c white granulated sugar, divided 1/4 and 3/4
1 T all-purpose flour
1 c cold water
2 T apple cider vinegar
Cinnamon powder (or cinnamon sugar) for dusting

Prick prepared (thawed) piecrust with a fork to prevent bubbling. Chill for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400˚F. Line pie shell with foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake in center of oven about 20 minutes, or until edge is lightly browned and sides are set. Remove from oven to rack and reduce oven temperature to 350˚F.

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While pie shell is baking, beat eggs and 1/4 cup of sugar with mixer until blended completely. Combine flour and remaining sugar in a heavy saucepan, whisking to blend. Add water and vinegar and whisk to blend. Bring to a boil on medium heat, whisking occasionally to dissolve sugar. With mixer running in egg batter, drizzle hot syrup in a thin steady stream until completely blended.

Pour filling back into saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon until temperature reaches 175˚F, and coats back of spoon – about 15 minutes. Do not boil the mixture. Immediately pour filling into baked pie shell and bake until filling is set, 15-20 minutes. Cool completely on a rack. Once cooled, dust top with cinnamon.

NO-CRUST (IMPOSSIBLE) COCONUT PIE
This recipe is a coconut custard pudding baked in a pie plate. Who needs crust! It became popular as soon as food manufacturers learned how to can flaked coconut. Refrigerate the pie until ready to use.

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4 large eggs, well beaten

2 c white granulated sugar

1/2 c self-rising flour
1 stick (1/2 c) butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp vanilla extract

7-oz can of coconut
(or 7 oz weighed on a scale)
2 c whole milk

Mix all ingredients well and pour into two lightly buttered 9-inch pie pans. Bake at 350˚F for 30-40 minutes., until center stops jiggling.

MOCK APPLE PIE
This recipe dates back to the Great Depression, and appeared for decades on the back of Ritz cracker boxes. The original recipe called for 36 crackers, which is how many crackers used to be in a single sleeve. Nowadays, each sleeve contains 29 or 30 crackers. I used 44 crackers in the recipe, and didn’t reduce the syrup quite down to 1-1/2 cups. Use your own judgment. It’s delicious.

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2 c white granulated sugar
1-3/4 c water
2 tsp cream of tartar
Zest and 2 T juice from 1 lemon
2 tsp vanilla extract
44 Ritz crackers, coarsely broken
2 T butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon (or cinnamon sugar)
2 unbaked 9-inch pie crusts
1 egg
1 T milk (any type)
1 T white granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 425˚F. If oven runs hot, preheat to 400˚F.

Combine sugar, water and cream of tartar in medium saucepan over medium-high heat, whisking continuously until sugar dissolves. Bring mixture to a boil, whisking occasionally, once it reaches a rolling boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes, until mixture reduces to about 1-1/2 generous cups of liquid. Scrape mixture off the sides and stir in zest, lemon juice and vanilla. Remove from heat to cool for 30 minutes.

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While mixture is cooling, prepare crusts or use frozen premade crusts. Spread crumbled crackers evenly in one crust. Pour syrup evenly over the crackers. Dot mixture with butter pieces. Sprinkle evenly with the cinnamon or cinnamon sugar mixture. The latter makes a sweeter pie.

If using thawed-from-frozen premade crust, plop second crust between two sheets of waxed paper and roll out. Position the second piecrust on filled pie. Seal edges by rolling excess under and crimping between fingers to flute the edges. Cut several small slits in top to vent steam. Beat egg with milk and brush the egg wash over the piecrust top. Sprinkle sugar evenly over the egg wash. This will result in a glittery, golden crust.

Bake pie on center rack for 30 minutes, or until golden. Cool and serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, just like a genuine apple pie.


Laurie Triplette is a writer, historian and accredited appraiser of fine arts, dedicated to preserving Southern culture and foodways. Author of the award-winning community family cookbook GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’, and editor of ZEBRA TALES (Tailgating Recipes from the Ladies of the NFLRA), Triplette is a member of the Association of Food Journalists, Southern Foodways Alliance and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. Check out the GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’ website and follow Laurie’s food adventures on Facebook and Twitter.

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