“People’s...eyes got filmy, watery, misty when we handed them a slice of pie. Pie was memory. Nostalgia. Pie made people recall simpler, maybe happier times.” - Judith Fertig, The Memory of Lemon
Does anyone actually not like pie? I honestly don’t believe it’s possible. People refuse it sometimes, when offered, claiming to be on a diet or too full from eating their salad or some other weak excuse. I have always suspected that people who refuse pie when offered actually really love pie and have some stashed in the fridge that they’ll go home and devour when no one’s watching. And who can blame them?
Pie has been around for centuries. Pie was originally savory and featured meat more often than anything else. According to PieCouncil.org, the 14th century Romans get credit for the first published pie recipe, which was a rye-crusted goat cheese and honey pie. Then, in the 15th century, bakers in England saw beyond meat and cheese and began making fruit pies. Queen Elizabeth I gets credit for making the first cherry pie during her reign in the 1500s. So pie definitely has earned its title as “most traditional dessert.”
Pie, as it has evolved over the centuries, has been on everyone’s table in some form. I imagine everyone reading this grew up with pie of some kind, whether it was grandma’s chocolate cream pie with homemade crust made with real lard, or simply a Sara Lee pie from the frozen foods section of the grocery store. Typically, in the realm of food, whatever you grew up eating is the kind you love most.
My own pie memories are based on the pies my mother made for us growing up. She made apple pie in the fall, baking the excess homemade dough into strips sprinkled with cinnamon sugar as a treat for us. She made a fantastic refrigerator pie in the summertime, made with frozen lemonade or limeade concentrate, depending upon her mood. She would put it in a graham cracker crust and chill it; sometimes she even froze it. I’ve only recently found her exact recipe for this, which I’ll share with you momentarily. It was so refreshing and delicious that I know you’ll enjoy it on a hot day, just like I did when I was a little girl.
She also made the traditional pumpkin, pecan and sweet potato pies at Thanksgiving and Christmas. The only one she didn’t make from scratch during the holidays was mincemeat pie, which actually was a spicy fruit pie (no meat) and I loved it, too. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been presented with a pie I didn’t like.
I was once given a grape pie by a nice older lady back in the early 1990s, and it was horrendous, bless her heart. She made up the recipe, because she had an excess of muscadines, and threw them into a pie crust with some sugar and eggs and baked it. To say that it did not turn out well is an understatement. The crust became a dough-y, gloppy mess, and the tough skins of the grapes were practically inedible. We didn’t tell her that, of course, when we returned the clean pie plate to her. Sometimes you just have to say “thank you for thinking of us!” and move on.
In the spirit of creative and unusual pies like that grape pie-tastrophe, I started looking for unique pie recipes, out of curiosity, in some of my old cookbooks. One thing I have learned is that tastes have changed over the years! Here are some of the more unusual pie recipes I found in my books, followed by a recipe for a peanut butter pie that I make and love to serve my family…plus, mom’s lime refrigerator pie!
Impossible Pie (1978 edition of Southern Sideboards by the Junior League of Jackson, Mississippi) - This is a pie that is made of eggs, milk, sugar, butter, flour, vanilla and flaked coconut. The unusual thing about Impossible Pie is that it doesn’t need a crust, as it forms its own crust as it bakes, according to the recipe. I suppose someone thought that quality was virtually impossible!
Scuppernong Grape Pie (1961 edition of The Progressive Farmer’s Southern Cookbook) - This flashback-inducing (for me) pie is made with one cup of grape pulp, a stick of butter, a cup of sugar and three eggs. Thankfully, this recipe cooks down the pulp and strains it so the seeds and skins are removed, unlike the one I was given by that sweet little lady.
Pink Squirrel Pie (Southern Sideboards cookbook, mentioned above) - This pie has a crust made of macaroon cookies and butter, and the filling is composed of marshmallows, red food coloring, whipping cream, creme de noyaux liqueur and white creme de menthe liqueur. Perhaps one would see pink squirrels after eating a generous slice or two of this unusual pie?
Pinto Bean Pie (1981 edition of Bell’s Best Recipes by the Telephone Pioneers of America) - This pie features a cup of mashed pintos, plus chopped nuts, coconut flakes, brown sugar, evaporated milk, eggs, and vanilla. I’ve never tried this one, but at least we can say it would give the person who ate it a nice boost of protein.
Company’s Coming Pie - The unusual thing about this Bell’s Best pie is that in addition to pecans, it features 18 soda crackers. The author, Sissy Finley of Clarksdale, Mississippi, suggested topping the finished product with ice cream, pineapple preserves and coconut.
Good Pie - this one offered in Bell’s Best by “Sweet Pea” Deas in Jackson, Mississippi, features few ingredients: condensed milk, eggs, chopped pecans and vanilla extract. The trick to making a good Good Pie, Sweet Pea says, is to simmer the can of milk covered with water in a pot for two hours. Then it’s poured out and mixed with the other ingredients. The completed pie filling is poured into a vanilla wafer crust and chilled.
It’s noteworthy, I believe, that the publisher of Bell’s Best placed the recipe for "Good Pie" beneath a recipe for "Dang Good Pie," which features pineapple and coconut. I’m not sure anyone ever made the Good Pie, because if you’ve already tried Dang Good Pie, it would seem like a step down, really. Sweet Pea should’ve thrown a hissy fit about that mix-up.
Pies were, and still are, as interesting as the variety of people who live and bake in the South. In the old days, pies were made from whatever the cook might have excess of in the cupboard, like the soda crackers or the pinto beans. That’s really quite creative! Whether or not they all tasted good, I am not sure.
I do know this, though. My chilly peanut butter pie is creamy, cold and perfect for a hot summer day in the South.
Steph’s No-bake Peanut Butter Pie
1 prepared 9-inch graham cracker crust
1 eight-ounce package lowfat cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups whipped cream, plus more for topping
Mini-peanut butter cups for topping, if desired
In a mixer bowl, combine cream cheese, peanut butter, vanilla and powdered sugar. Blend until smooth and fluffy. Add 3 cups whipped cream, then gently fold in, mixing until combined and all one color.
Pour the filing into the prepared crust, then top with more whipped cream and add candies, if desired. Chill for at least two hours before serving so you can cut it neatly and easily.
Next, here is my mother’s refrigerator lemon or lime-flavored pie, which you’ll find so refreshing on a hot summer day.
Refrigerator Limeade Pie
8 ounces frozen limeade, thawed
8 ounces whipped topping or whipped cream
14 ounce can condensed milk
Pre-made graham cracker or shortbread crust
Optional: green food coloring
1. In a mixing bowl, combine whipped cream and condensed milk, and blend using hand mixer until combined.
2. Pour in the thawed limeade and, if desired, 3-4 drops of green food coloring, and mix on lower speed until completely combined.
3. Pour into the crust, then refrigerate for at least thirty minutes. You can also freeze, if desired. Thaw slightly to make it easier to cut, if so.
Alternatively, you can use lemonade concentrate in the same amount, and leave uncolored or use a few drops of yellow food color, just for fun.
I hope you enjoy my pie recipes, and share them some with someone you love!
Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is "Mama Steph." She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home.
She is married and has three young adult sons who have been known to eat a whole pie in one sitting. You can find more of her recipes at whatsouthernfolkseat.com and at Facebook.com/whatsouthernfolkseat.