When my book on Southern cakes came out in 2007, two main thoughts buzzed around in my brain. One was exultation over having finished a major work project, and having done so with so much pleasure and with a resulting book which thrilled my heart (and still does to this day!). The other was a mix of curiosity and excitement, over the possibility of continuing my journey down the Southern culinary path, exploring the kindred topic of Southern pies.
To my delight, my editor at Chronicle Books agreed that this would be a delicious idea, and as soon as I’d given a good send-off to Southern Cakes, I was back at work in the kind of endeavor I adore: being a detective on the subject of old-time, old-school, historical, classic and off-the-beaten path recipes, the scoop and how-to on traditional dishes, once which have a life of their own.
I loved the research, a mixture of flipping through cookbooks, history books, magazines, travel brochures, menus and memoirs; of gathering notes and clues, creating folders and then breaking them out into ever more folders as a particular pie became a concept, a theme, a chapter or a lead on another kindred pie. I interviewed cooks, waitresses and farmers’ market vendors, historians and family elders, as well as fellow food writers, chefs and bakers who are bringing the old ways along into the twenty-first century, as well as reinventing heirloom dishes in deliciously modern ways.
Southern Pies shares many things with Southern Cakes: the handsome and eminently cook-able format, with generous pages with a handsome finish and handy cover flaps for marking a recipe you want to try; inviting photographs of many of the pies; chapters which gather the pies into sections based on seasonal ingredients and signifigance; regional specialties; antiques and heirlooms, many of which are unfamiliar but by no means gone from the repertoire; and single subjects including custard pies, chocolate pies, and piecrusts.
I adore the photographs by the distinguished food photographer Leigh Beisch and her team, and the handsome and elegant design by Chronicle’s Anne Donnard. Pies range from the simplest (Egg Custard, Pumpkin, Brown Sugar, and 3 kinds of Chess) to a few dowager empresses that call for some time and dedication (Black Bottom; Chocolate Angel; and Scuppernong Meringue); from beloved standards (Pecan; Pumpkin; Sweet Potato; and Buttermilk) to fascinating try-me! Pies, old and new (Bean Pie, Shaker Lemon Pie; Green Tomato Pie; and Muscadine Grape Hull Pie).
The piecrust chapter provides 5 recipes and a piecrust-making #101 section, offering details and advice on that particular craft. For those of you who would love to make pies but either dread, fear, or find it a bother to take that on, this is a time where piecrust-skills are an option but not required. Prepared piecrust options abound in the grocery store, including ready-to-fit-in-the-pan pastry circles, frozen pie shells, and frozen dough ready for thawing and rolling out. I hope that these options make it possible for you to jump in and start making pies from this book, as the quintessential aspect of Southern pies for me is what fills the crust, not the crust on its own. My passion is for the plush custards, the apple chunks tumbled with cinnamon sugar and dotted with butter before being tucked in with a pastry blanket and baked; the fillings flavored with lemon, coconut, cocoa and sorghum syrup. A magnificent, flaky and golden crust provides great pleasure and wins applause, but for me and my kitchen, it’s an inside story; I’m always in love with what fills the crust and gives the pie its name, whether that is peach, pear or coconut, rhubarb, lemon or chocolate pecan.
Come on into the kitchen with me and try your hand at some of these memorable and lovely Southern pies. Whether they’re old-timers from your childhood or brand new temptations from modern chefs, you’ll find a lot to love here, and I hope you will enjoy trying them out in your kitchen and sharing them at the table with people you love.