In this modern-day-take-it-out-of-the-freezer-and shove-it-in-the-microwave world, we often lose sight of what real food tastes like. Not too surprising, when you look at the ingredient lists on most prepared foods. Many so-called foods have more chemicals than food ingredients. I figure if you can’t even pronounce half the ingredients, you shouldn’t rely on it as a major food source. On the other hand, just think about beef stew or chili simmering slowly through the day, ready to warm the cockles of your heart – not to mention your cold hands – come dinner time. Or home-made breakfast burritos or Cornish pasties, stored in the freezer for those mornings when you can barely find the kitchen, let alone think up a menu.
If you were a ranch wife during tough times, coming up with some sort of creative dessert could be hard. It might be extra hard in the depths of winter, when your fruit stores had dwindled. In those days, luxuries like chocolate were non-existent. You made do with what you had on hand plus what you’d canned or dried during preserving season. Most ranch wives did have plenty of good eggs, cream, butter and milk available. They usually had vinegar from last year’s cider. They might have some sugar in the pantry, but since it tended to be an expensive store-bought food, molasses, sorghum syrup and honey were more likely sweeteners. If they didn’t have nuts, they might add oatmeal for a texture. From these basic ingredients arose a number of “desperation pie” recipes.
A custard base was typical of a desperation pie, because eggs, milk and a sweetener were usually available. They were often dressed up with a billowy, snow-white meringue touched with golden brown from a hot oven, or dollops of sweetened whipped cream. In addition to the standard pastry crust, which required only fat, flour and ice water, cooks might use crushed crackers, cookies or bread crumbs mixed with butter and pressed into the pan. Simple, fast and delicious, desperation pies deserve to be resurrected for today’s dinner tables. Here are several basic desperation pies. Use the pie crust of your choice.
Amish Milk Pie
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup molasses
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 3 cups thick sour milk
- 2 (9-inch) unbaked pie shells
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Beat eggs and molasses. Combine dry ingredients and add to egg mixture. Stir in sour milk. Pour into unbaked pie shells. Bake for at 400 degrees 10 minutes; then reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees F and bake an additional 40 to 45 minutes.
- 1 unbaked pie crust
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1 cup cold water
- 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
Line shell with foil and fill with pie weights or copper pennies. Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until set. While the pie shell bakes, whisk eggs with ¼ cup sugar. Whisk flour and remaining sugar in heavy 1-quart saucepan, then whisk in water and vinegar. Bring to boil, whisking constantly, then gradually add egg mixture, whisking constantly. Cook filling over moderate heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until it is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon. Do not boil. Immediately pour into pie shell or 2-cup measure. If you pour it into the measuring cup, cover surface of filling with a round of wax paper. Reduce oven to 350 degrees, pour filing into baked pie shell and bake an additional 15 to 20 minutes.
Buttermilk Chess Pie
- 2 ½ cups granulated sugar
- 2 rounded tablespoons all-purpose flour
- Pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup of butter, melted and cooled
- 1 ½ cups of buttermilk
- 2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract
- 3 large eggs, separated
- 1 Tbs vinegar
- 1 prebaked pie shell, just out of the oven
Whisk dry ingredients together, then whisk in everything but eggs. Beat the egg yolks until thick and yellow. Beat the egg whites until thick. Blend the egg yolks into the filling until they disappear, then gently fold in egg whites. Bake at 325 degrees F for one hour.
- 3/4 cup dark molasses, sorghum syrup or dark Karo
- 3/4 cup boiling water
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 1/4 cup shortening or 1/4 cup butter
- 1/2 cup brown sugar (or use granulated sugar with 1/2 Tbs molasses mixed in)
- 1 9- inch pie crust
Dissolve the baking soda in hot water and add molasses. Set aside. Mix sugar and flour and rub in shortening as if you were making biscuits or pie crust. Pour 1/3 of the liquid in the unbaked pie crust; top with 1/3 crumb mixture. Keep alternating, ending with crumbs on top. Bake at 375 degrees for about 35 minutes.