Friday Feature: Southern Pies

November 3, 2010

Sometime in the blistering heat of October (oh yeah, you read it right. BLISTERING HEAT. October was such a yo-yo month- we had a week of 90+ highs, all with 200% humidity, and we had nights where it’d dip to the early 40s and we’d be freezing in our t-shirts and shorts.) I was waiting for my lunch at Parker and Otis when this cookbook caught my eye.

Southern Pies.

by Nancie McDermott.

The first line might excite you more than the last one, but Nancie McDermott is a wonderful, wonderful woman. She lives nearby in Chapel Hill, and her first book, Southern Cakes, is a work of perfection, in my own humble opinion. Her carrot cake recipe helped me get over my aversion to carrot cakes, and her lane cake recipe makes the best birthday cake (it is a very, very proper birthday cake). I went to her book signing for Southern Cakes, and wondered why more people weren’t there– she brought three fabulous cakes, and we all had a good time talking about cakes and eating cakes.

So when I saw Southern Pies, I was very, very excited. While I love cakes, I am really a pie person a heart. I first started with an apple pie in college, and have never really stopped. (My apple pie is still a big favorite, though my pumpkin pie is slowly easing its way to the top pedestal). Every Thanksgiving, I must bake a pie, and it’s usually pumpkin from scratch. I just love the process, from putting the dough together to make the crust, making the filling, and making it look pretty. Some of the pies I’ve made are: raw strawberry pie, a muscadine grape pie, and tomato pesto pie. And of course, I belonged to a community supported pie program for a year and a half… clearly, I love pies.

And my dears, Nancie’s cookbook does not disappoint. She’s got recipes for standard pies, but also for more uncommon pies, such as transparent pie or vinegar pie. There is even a pie recipe from Colonial Williamsburg. It’s a must for pie lovers who love a good story behind each pie.

I’ve made two pies (pumpkin and chocolate chess) from the cookbook, and they are really, really good. I made them for a party, and I swear the moment I walked in with my pie basket, people were following me to the kitchen just to figure out that delicious smell. And they were very, very happy, and not a single slice was left over, which is a good testament to the power of yummy pies.

So get yourself (and a friend) a copy, go to Nancie’s book events if she’s in your neck of woods (she brought five pies to the book signing. Bliss.).

Or you could make this very simple chocolate chess pie for the weekend.

Chocolate Chess Pie, adapted from Nancie McDermott’s Southern Pies
1 pie crust (you can see my pie crust recipe from this entry)
1 stick good butter (I like European-style)
1 square unsweetened chocolate (I used Schaffenberger bittersweet 80%)
1 C. sugar (I used Turbinado sugar)
2 eggs, beaten well (use good local eggs- like Fickle Creek Farm)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt

Heat oven to 325 F. Line a pie or tart pan with crust. Refrigerate the crust until needed.

Mix butter and chocolate in a small saucepan over medium heat, whisking to a smooth mixture 5-7 minutes later. You don’t want bubbles, you just want warm melted chocolate- if it bubbles, take off the stove immediately and keep mixing gently. Remove from heat and add sugar, mixing well. Then add rest of the ingredients- eggs, vanilla, salt and mix well.

Pour the chocolate filling into prepared pie crust and place pie on bottom shelf of oven. Bake until the pie puffs up a bit, is fairly firm (cracks on the surface are fine), 35 to 45 minutes.

Place pie on a cooling rack and let cool for at least 10 minutes (or if you’re like me in a hurry, put it in the pie basket and head towards the party in the cold- that should cool the pie down nicely). Serve just a little bit warm (not hot), with optional whipped cream. Melt into chocolate bliss and conclude that the world is a better place. (okay, that last line was all my own).

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