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Mar
14

An old-school member of the chess-pie family, Osgood Pie is a simple stir-up of pecans, raisins, butter, sugar and eggs.

It’s been a long time since I sat in Mrs. Holder’s geometry class, learning about proofs, formulas, and recipes for figuring out the area of a square, the volume of a cylinder, and the meaning of ‘rhombus’, a word I like very much but never seem to use. Geometry appealed to me with its graphics and literal applications, and possibly in a subliminal way for its applications in the world of food. Same with fractions years earlier — immediately applicable to sharing food. With the image of a pan of brownies or a beautiful pie in mind, I could get right to my mathematical work. I remember the phrase “Pi R Square”, though I couldn’t now explain it even if you promised me a round-the-world plane ticket. But Pi Day? That is my kind of math phrase, and inspired me to get up this morning and make a pie.

In terms of seasonal ingredients, right now it’s early spring here in North Carolina, and local fruit means apples from last fall. Rhubarb is surely up somewhere, but since I don’t have a pie plant out in the backyard (To-Do List entry: plant rhubarb for next spring), that didn’t work for a pi day pie. Browsing recipes we had to cut from my book, Southern Pies, I came across Osgood Pie, an old-school recipe that was standard in Southern kitchens but widely popular across the midwest as well. It’s in the chess family, which means it’s a very simple pie depending on butter, sugar, and eggs to bring great happiness to baker and to eaters. Raisins and pecans are longtime standards in Southern kitchens, and called on for dessert pleasures in between the seasons for strawberries, peaches, figs, and plums. I stirred this up with a fork, on 3/14, Pi Day. Though Pi Day, celebrated since 1989, gives a shout-out to a number (3.14159….) which has no end, this pie does have an end. It can only be cut into a finite number of pieces: 6, or 18, or 12, and because of its satisfying homestyle flavor, it will last only a very finite day or two on your kitchen counter. The name, Osgood Pie? Nobody knows. My favorite legend is that the person who first sampled it hollered out “Oh! So Good!” Could be — it is very good.

Osgood Pie

Pastry for a 9-inch single-crust

3/4 cup (4 ounces) raisins

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter, softened (4 ounces/1 stick)

3 eggs

1 tablespoon vinegar

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup (3ounces) chopped pecans

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a 9-inch pie pan with piecrust, then crimp the edges decoratively, or set out a prepared unbaked piecrust. Put the raisins in a small bowl and add hot water to cover them. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes while you prepare the filling.

In a medium bowl, combine the sugar and butter. Use a fork or a whisk to mix them well. Add the eggs one by one, beating well each time. Add the vinegar and salt and stir well. Drain the raisins and add them to the filling along with the pecans, and stir well to combine everything into a thick, chunky filling.

Pour it into the piecrust and place the pie in the middle of the 400 degree F oven. Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 325 degrees and bake until the pie is puffed, lightly browned, and firm, 30 to 40 minutes more. Place the pie on a cooling rack or a folded kitchen towel and let cool to room temperature.

Makes 1 9-inch pie

About the Author
Nancie McDermott is a food writer and cooking teacher, and the author of ten cookbooks. Her passion is researching and celebrating traditional food in its cultural context, and her beloved subjects are two seemingly different places with much in common: the cuisines of Asia and of the American South. Nancie gained her Southern kitchen wisdom as a Piedmont North Carolina native,and her Asian culinary research commenced soon after college, when she was sent to northeastern Thailand as a Peace Corps volunteer.
  1. Caitlyn Reply

    Good recipe…easy to follow. Recently had a slice at a pie social and it sent me looking for the recipe. Found yours and tried it. Not sure what the vinegar does. Can you explain why it is there? Thanks

    • Nancie McDermott Reply

      Well, the truth is I do not know what the original purpose of the vinegar is, but here’s what I think. It adds a pleasing sharpness against the deep, luscious sweetness of sugar/butter/eggs, which are what this family of old-timey pies is all about. It gives a tangy quality which almost seems like it could be lemon, and back in the days when this kind of pie came into being, lemons would have been a rarity and a luxury for everyday cooks. It probably adds to the pie’s thickening properties, although there are many traditional chess pie recipes which use no vinegar, and they set up just fine, so it’s not essential for that purpose though I believe it has a small good effect in that way. In my book, “Southern Pies”, I offer two recipes for classic chess pies, of which pie family Osgood Pie is clearly a dressed-up member, because I found both kinds, with vinegar and without, to have a large following and presence in the Southern pie family. I admit to a preference for the vinegar-having versions, because I love the small flavor kick; but it’s also possible that I lean that direction because those are the kinds of chess pie that came into my hands as a child in this part of North Carolina, back in the day.

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