It’s no secret I’ve been on a Southern kick of late. Well, I guess, why would it be a secret? I don’t know, something has happened to me recently. I even got myself a subscription to Southern Living. It’s all I can think about, all I want to write about and absolutely all I want to cook right now: Food of the South.
Typically I don’t have much of a sweet tooth – never really have. But I have been hearing so much about A Slice of Pie on KCRW lately that my wheels started spinning. The event sounds so fun: it’s at LACMA this Sunday, September 18 - it’s free and if you wear an apron you get free general admission to the museum, there will be mountains of pies to taste and an apron fashion show. The pies are submitted by both home cooks and professional chefs. The judges are a cross section of chefs and food writers. What’s not to like?
So I called my mom, the baker in the family. I don’t know why but I knew I wanted to make a buttermilk pie. Now I actually do not have a childhood memory of buttermilk pie. To tell you the truth, I don’t think I had ever even had it before until this past year. Baby Blues BBQ has it on their menu and one day Maggie insisted I try it. I fell in love.
I did a little research and discovered buttermilk pie is indeed a traditional Southern delicacy. It’s basically a chess pie.
Buttermilk is thick, slightly paler than eggnog, and yes, it's tart. There is no butter in buttermilk: It's actually low-fat or non-fat milk that has been fermented by various bacteria, in a process similar to the way yogurt is made.
But it's good for so many things. It makes a gorgeous batter for frying chicken, makes homemade biscuits, rolls and cornbread tender, mashed potatoes just faintly tangy, and of course, pancakes light and fluffy.
On my first try I did surprisingly all right. I drove to Mom’s to pick up the dough for the crust she made for me (with lard!) and put it in the fridge for two hours while I got to work. But when I say work, I mean no work. This is seriously the easiest thing to make ever. I wanted it to be on the less-sweet side so I added an egg and a little extra buttermilk. The flavor was very nice except I found it to be way too eggy. Doug agreed but Mom thought it was really good.
This past Sunday, on the second go ‘round, Mom came over to dive into it herself. She made her perfect crust and got to it. We decided to use one less egg, less sugar and about the same amount of buttermilk I had used previously.
I thought it was perfect. Frighteningly so. This non-sweet-toother could have eaten that pie like a bag of salty-crunchies. Everyone I shared it with, which was about six people, absolutely loved it. Whitney, a native of Kentucky and a big buttermilk pie fan, did say she would have liked the top to be a bit bruléed. Fair enough.
Sadly, Mom and I misunderstood the information I was sent about the event and, as a result, missed the entry deadline by a mere thirty-six hours. So our, what I’m sure would have been, award-winning pie will not be in the pie-stravaganza this Sunday. Mom, so confident, even suggested we have our own Salon des Refusés. We, of course, won’t actually do that. We’ll find the platform for our pie. Hell, there’s whisperings of an all Southern-themed Dinner at Eight coming up in October. Perhaps we’ve found our dessert.
I hope to see y’all this Sunday!
The pie should be firm with a top boldly golden, the crust a little brown. If the pie is removed from the oven prematurely, the dessert looks like pudding spilling from a crust.
1 cup sugar (or a hair less)
2 tablespoons flour, plus a little for dusting
1/2 cup melted butter
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell (see below)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Beat eggs slightly and add sugar and flour. Then add melted butter and mix well. Add buttermilk and vanilla and mix.
Dust the unbaked pie shell with a little bit of flour. Pour batter into shell, and then sprinkle a little more flour on top.
Bake at 325 degrees until the custard is set, approximately 1 hour.
My mom's awesome pie crust
Makes 2 pie crusts
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) sweet butter, chilled
6 tablespoons lard, chilled
5-6 tablespoons ice water, as needed
Sift flour, sugar and salt into a mixing bowl. Add chilled butter and lard. Working quickly and using your fingertips, rub or cut fat into dry ingredients until the mixture resembles course meal.
Sprinkle on ice water, 2-3 tablespoons at a time, and toss with a fork. Turn dough out onto your work surface and, using the heel of your hand, smear dough away from you, about 1/4 cup at a time. Scrape it up into a ball and wrap in wax paper. Chill in refrigerator for 2 hours.
Roll dough out to 1/4-inch thickness on a floured work surface. Line a 9-inch pie plate with half of the dough. Crimp edges for a single-crust pie.