The main reason I decided to take up cooking for myself – many years ago – was purely selfish: I wanted to taste again all the wonderful foods that Mama had been so good at producing, and, given that she died in 1973 at 50, it was pretty clear that if I was ever to revisit those flavors, I’d have to figure out how to make them for myself.
There were some things she made that were quite simply the best I ever ate, even to this day. Some were savory casseroles like “Martha’s Company Casserole” or side dishes, like the baked onion recipe I published here a couple of years ago, but the truth is that the things I missed the most were her baked goods; her marvelous desserts. These included her famous pecan pies, a rich super-moist banana bread that was one of my favorite after-school snacks to come home to, a lemon icebox pie that was Daddy’s favorite, and that 1,2,3,4 cake with caramel icing that has now become such a favorite with our beach house guests that it’s practically a staple.
But there was one recipe down deep in the box, still in her handwriting, that I’ve always wanted to try, but just never got around to: Butterscotch Pie. In the scheme of things, it was a johnny-come-lately to our table since it was a recipe she only discovered a few years before she died, but it was an immediate hit, and since I have never, in all the years since, seen another butterscotch pie on any menu anywhere, I decided to give it a go.
Like many of Mama’s file-card recipes, it omits basic steps that she didn’t need to write down because they would have been automatic for her, so I had to read her mind to know if it was a pie for which the filling needed to be cooked on top of the stove and cooled before pouring into an already baked shell (as opposed to, say, a key-lime pie, also custard based, which I bake to set the eggs). Nevertheless, after puzzling it out and getting a good idea of the best way to proceed, I decided I was ready to go.
But then, upon reading the recipe more carefully, I discovered that, after mixing together a few dry ingredients, it calls for adding 2 1/4 cups of water to the filling. Water! Now, I thought to myself, surely it would be better if you made the custard with milk rather than water. It just seemed wrong, somehow, so I decided to make two pies. One with milk and the other, as Mama had indicated, with water. I tried the milk version first, and, to be sure, it was a delicious treat and Richard really liked it, but I was mindful as I tasted it that the filling was definitely heavier than the one I remembered, although not so much that it would have made much of a difference.
Then, just yesterday, I made the second one, this time with water. And, much to my astonishment, I actually like the second one better. The filling is quicker to melt in your mouth, and the balance between the filling and the whipped cream topping is just right.
So, it would seem, Mama knew best after all. It may feel strange pouring all that water into a pie filling, but trust me, it really works. And, as a happy result, for the first time in at least 44 years, I have finally had another piece of her tasty Butterscotch Pie.
NOTE: This is for a 9-inch pie. For an 8-inch pie, reduce all ingredients by one-third.
1 Pie Crust, pre-baked and no longer warm. (Place rolled-out piecrust dough in a well buttered pie dish (I use clear Pyrex because you can see the bottom of the crust as it browns), prick liberally with a fork to let steam escape, then cover with a baking parchment sheet trimmed to size and filled with a pound or so of dried beans to weight it down. Bake at 350º for approximately 20 minutes till just turning golden.)
2 1/4 cups firmly packed brown sugar
3 TBS. corn starch
4 1/2 TBS. all-purpose flour
3/8 tsp. salt
2 1/4 cups hot tap water
3 egg yolks
1 1/2 TBS. butter
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla plus a few drops for whipped cream topping
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
2 TBS. sugar
In a large mixing bowl, combine the brown sugar, corn starch, flour and salt and stir well with a wire whisk until uniform in color.
Place dry ingredient mixture in 3 quart heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir in hot water (NOTE: hot water from the tap is just right. Boiling water would be too hot and the egg yolks would curdle, but if you use just regular hot water from the tap, you should avoid any danger) until the mixture is smooth, then stir in the three egg yolks and continue stirring constantly for several minutes until the mixture is thickened. Remove from stove and immediately stir in butter and vanilla.
Optional: As it cooled, I returned to the mixture several times to whip it vigorously with the wire whisk to blend in air and make the resulting filling just that much lighter, but I’m not sure it made all that much difference. Nevertheless, I will do it that way again next time because it did help a bit, I think.
Once cooled, pour filling into the prepared pie shell and place in refrigerator to cool while making the topping
Place whipping cream in bowl of electric mixer and using wire whisk attachment, whip up the cream to desired consistency (thick enough for peaks to form), adding the sugar and a few drops of vanilla as soon as it begins to foam.
Remove pie from refrigerator and top with whipped cream topping. Return to refrigerator until ready to serve.
© 2017 George Thomas Wilson. All rights reserved.
This is so relatable — I love looking through my late grandmother’s handwritten recipes. It’s so comforting to know that I can recreate her famous beef stew for myself 🙂 Of course, it’ll never be quite as delicious as when she made it. Loved reading this and will be trying this pie!