Lost Pies of the South
This Thanksgiving, we're inviting you on a little road trip, an imaginary excursion through 10 Southern states, each one with a particular pie worthy of your own holiday table. You won't need a map, a seat belt, or car keys for this journey—just an appetite to try something different. These pies, each with a distinct provenance, are full of stories and flavors that are unique to the states from which they came. Feeling adventurous? Bake a streusel-topped persimmon pie inspired by the tangy fruit that grows wild throughout North Carolina. Then try a transparent pie, which is as beloved in some corners of the Bluegrass State as a glass of well-aged bourbon. Or treat yourself to a smooth pumpkin pie made with cushaw squash, an old-time favorite of Cajun and Creole cooks in Louisiana. Wherever you call home, these delicious desserts will give you even more reasons to be thankful.
Transparent Pie with Whipped Crème Fraîche and Sugared Cranberries Recipe
Put this pie in your holiday lineup for a little nod to Kentucky.
Sliced Sweet Potato Pie
As an accomplished research scientist and educator at Alabama's Tuskegee Institute in the early 20th century, George Washington Carver featured a recipe for Sliced Potato Pie in an agricultural bulletin about sweet potatoes, which encouraged African-American farmers to cultivate the root vegetable as a cash crop and nutritional powerhouse. This double-crust, old-fashioned pie may look ordinary on the outside, but when it's sliced, the inside reveals vibrant orange layers of sweet potatoes flecked with spices and sweetened with sugar and sorghum syrup. We love the simplicity of the classic custard-style sweet potato pie, but on a special occasion like Thanksgiving—a day filled with memory and meaning—this handsome antique version is well worth the time it takes to prepare. For an extra-special touch, we suggest topping each slice with a dollop of whipped cream flavored with molasses and vanilla. Every bite of this dessert tastes like autumn and reminds us what a generous genius Carver was.
Arkansas Black Apple Pie with Caramel Sauce
First cultivated in Benton County, Arkansas, in 1870, the Arkansas Black apple is a distinctive heirloom that ripens to a deep red on the tree but transforms to a nearly black hue after a few weeks in storage. Fragrant, tart, and tasty out of hand as well as in baked goods, it also thrives in parts of Georgia, Texas, Tennessee, West Virginia, and beyond the South in Pennsylvania and California. The Arkansas Black keeps for months and ripens after it's picked, improving in flavor and texture over time. No wonder it's been a favorite of home cooks for generations and continues to be sought out by knowledgeable pastry chefs today. Be on the lookout for this member of the Winesap apple family at farmers' markets and local produce stands. If Arkansas Blacks are not available in your area, Granny Smith apples will make a fine substitute. Though this pie is delicious on its own, it tastes even better served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a generous drizzle of our homemade Caramel Sauce spiked with apple brandy.
Sure, Georgia has a bounty of gorgeous, plump peaches available by the bushel basket, certain to sweeten the sting of summer's heat. But when it comes to signature, sustaining agricultural contributions to the state's economy, it's really peanuts for the win. Around half of the nation's entire crop of this legume hails from South Georgia soil, and the state shines as the birthplace of President Jimmy Carter—who was also a successful peanut farmer. Runner peanuts, the most common type grown in Georgia, are prized for making rich and creamy peanut butter, which we put to good use in this irresistible dessert. The crunchy, cookie-like peanut butter crust is a perfect partner for the gooey filling spiked with sorghum syrup for a nice farmhouse flavor. A layer of cocktail peanuts delivers a salty note that contrasts nicely with the sweetness underneath. And because we can't leave well enough alone, we topped each slice with a spoonful of Brown Sugar-Bourbon Whipped Cream for a fine, fancy finish.
We know all about bluegrass music, bourbon, burgoo, and a little horse race known as the Derby, but the state of Kentucky has another sweet reason to brag. It's home to transparent pie, a memorable dessert with a filling made from a few key ingredients: butter, sugar, eggs, flour, vanilla, and a splash of milk or cream. The filling, which is encased in a golden, flaky crust, has the eggy richness of a chess pie but without the cornmeal or vinegar. Magee's Bakery in Maysville, Kentucky, has served up the Bluegrass State's signature confection for decades. Theirs is so good that Kentucky native George Clooney brought his bride by the bakery to sample his favorite pie while on a trip home in 2015. We've kept our version of the classic simple while offering two beautiful holiday embellishments: Sugared Cranberries and Whipped Crème Fraîche. The cranberries bring a glorious pop of color and flavor, and clouds of Whipped Crème Fraîche temper this pie's signature sweetness with a welcome tang.
A large crookneck winter squash, the cushaw (Cucurbita mixta) is a keeper wherever it grows, from its ancient origins in Mesoamerica all the way up into what is now the Southern and Southwestern United States. Graced with a variegated green-striped exterior and golden, naturally sweet flesh, cushaws easily reach 10 pounds. The Picayune's Creole Cook Book, first published in 1901, includes a recipe for Pumpkin Pie or Tarte de Citrouille with this note: "Use the delicate cashaws [sic] for this pie." Over a century later, you can still spot cushaws at some New Orleans farmers' markets and in home gardens, but concern for their future has led to their inclusion on the Ark of Taste, a catalog of foods that are facing extinction. If you're lucky enough to get your hands on a cushaw, roast and puree it to make this distinctive dessert. (Or you can substitute plain canned pumpkin puree for the filling.) Either way, top each slice with our smooth and rich Vanilla Bean Custard Sauce and a few candied pecans.
Thriving along the perimeter of North Carolina's corn and tobacco fields, wherever forests meet furrows, tall, spindly persimmon trees lose their leaves in the fall, around the time their fruit turns ripe. Out come all the creatures, from birds and squirrels to possums and human beings, competing for the flame-colored crop. Frost makes the fruit sweeter, as does the messy work of processing the pulp through a sieve to remove seeds and stems. Thankfully, you can order frozen persimmon puree online (we recommend La Vigne Organics; lavignefruits.com) or use the fine domesticated persimmon selections that are available at most grocery stores and farmers' markets nowadays. Both the soft, pointy Hachiya and the firm, tomato-shaped Fuyu can be pureed to make the flavorful filling for this dessert. Make your own crumbly pecan-studded streusel to crown the center of this pie, providing an extra autumnal note to the silky-smooth, gently spiced filling.
Grapefruit Chess Pie
Beyond the city of Charleston's sparkling waterfront and colorful buildings is a quieter kind of beauty that most people never get a chance to see. Hidden from public view is an exotic world of backyard citrus trees planted by optimistic residents who hoped the Lowcountry climate might be hospitable enough to let the trees bear fruit. That it has done, and Charleston natives (and brothers) Matt and Ted Lee write about this "unheralded food asset" in their cookbook, The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen (2013). Scattered here and there behind older homes around the city, trees bear kumquats, lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruit—a secret spread-out orchard. Inspired by a neighbor's harvest, the resourceful duo made a creamy, custardy version of Grapefruit Chess Pie. Our take on the Lees' recipe includes Ruby Red grapefruit and a whimsical crust featuring leaf shapes. Thanksgiving declares the arrival of winter, but this lovely dessert reminds us it won't be all snow and ice: It's citrus season too.
Recipe: Grapefruit Chess Pie
Over the Moon Chocolate Pie
Behold: A nontraditional pie for your holiday table inspired by a sweet confection born in 1917 in Chattanooga. One hundred years later, MoonPie treats are still made there daily and cherished as a lunch box dessert, as a convenience store snack, and (in miniature form) as a prized throw in Mobile, Alabama's annual Mardi Gras parades. The MoonPie is wonderful, famous, and worthy of such adoration, but technically, it's not a pie. Made from two round graham crackers pressed together with marshmallow filling and dipped in chocolate, it's more of a sandwich cookie. So we stepped in to fill the gap between the name and the thing. Our Over the Moon Chocolate Pie is made with a graham cracker crust, has a rich chocolate filling with a touch of Tennessee whiskey (another nod to its birthplace), and is finished off with light clouds of marshmallowy meringue. It's a salute, an homage, an expression of thankfulness for an old-timey Southern snack that continues to endure through generations.
Recipe: Over the Moon Chocolate Pie
Double-Decker Pecan Cheesecake Pie
Texas and pecans go back a long way. Native to 152 counties in the Lone Star State, pecan trees have thrived along rivers and streams here for thousands of years. Texans love their old groves of native pecans almost like family, going so far as to designate the beloved icon as the state tree of Texas in 1919. And nearly a century later, a determined group of elementary school students had pecan pie declared the official pie of Texas in 2013. Early historical references to pecan pie include a 1914 Christian Science Monitor recipe for Texas Pecan Pie. This recipe predates today's standard corn syrup-based version, calling instead for a simple egg custard filling with chopped nuts on top. Our double-decker confection brings together the two delicious desserts by pairing a layer of creamy cheesecake with a chess-style brown sugar filling. The result is a layered dessert sure to inspire second (or third) helpings and a repeat appearance at next year's gathering.
Rich in history and blessed with fertile soil and a generous climate, the Old Dominion state has an abundance of food-centric reasons for gratitude. First among them is Virginia's status as the birthplace of Edna Lewis, renowned chef, cookbook author, and lifelong champion of the food of the South. In her memoir, The Taste of Country Cooking, Lewis shares recipes and stories of her childhood in the rural community of Freetown, founded in lush Central Virginia with the help of her grandfather following emancipation. Her book, divided into seasons and by occasions, brims with recipes for elegant feasts, picnic spreads, and holiday gatherings. In it, Lewis shares a recipe for Caramel Pie with an admonition: "This is a very haunting dessert, so rich and sweet one could easily overindulge. It's great after a heavy meal, to be served as tiny tarts or in very slender wedges." We agree with Lewis' note about "slender wedges" but couldn't resist dressing up our version with a flourish: whipped cream boosted with a little brandy.