Sunday, June 12, 2011

Snacking State-by-State: Indiana II - Sugar cream pie, honey bun...

The Midwest has significant Amish and Quaker populations - especially Indiana, whose LaGrange County boasts the second largest Amish population in the country. While our own nearby Pennsylvania Dutch neighbors have brought on the shoofly pie, in Indiana their most well known pie-based contribution to the local fare seems to be the sugar cream pie.

Official Name: State of Indiana
State Nicknames: The Hoosier State
Admission to the US: December 11, 1816 (#19)
-Indianapolis (largest city)
Other Important Cities: Fort Wayne (2nd largest); Evansville (3rd largest); South Bend (4th largest); Gary (5th largest - let me thththay it onththth agaaaaaiinnn)
Region: Midwest, Great Lakes; East North Central (US Census)
RAFT Nations: Cornbread & BBQ, Wild Rice, Maple Syrup
Bordered by:
Lake Michigan (northwest); Michigan (north); Ohio (east); Indiana (east); Kentucky (south); Illinois (west)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: water (beverage - no, seriously, I am not making this up); sugar / "Hoosier" cream pie (pie)
Some Famous & Typical Foods: American Indian (especially Shawnee) foods like buffalo, deer, turkey, corn, maple syrup and wild rice); again, Hoosier cream pie, breaded pork tenderloin sandwich; Wonder Bread; popcorn

This sugar cream pie sounds as sweet as it is, and is much easier to make. In part, it is so simple because of the spartan spate of ingredients that go into the pie, often prepped right in the shell. Marcia Adams, whose Heartland cookbook I have visited several times since I started investigating the Midwest and its foods, points out that this pie - also called a poor man's pie or a milk pie - is a simple pie often made from leftover pie dough scraps, milk, cream and sugar. This very popular Hoosier pie is even the official state pie - a much more interesting official food than the state beverage, which is water.

That's right: water.

After using Adams as a reference since I started looking at Illinois, I knew it was time to use one of her recipes. This pie comes from the same recipe featured in her Heartland cookbook, provided to her by Charlanne Dixon, Floridian but originally from Southern Indiana. This replicates the same pie from her youth.

The recipe: Sugar Cream Pie

For this recipe, you can make any old pie crust, but I decided to use Adams' recommended "Never Fail Pie Crust" which includes hardened vegetable shortening, flour, ice water, cider vinegar and eggs among other things (but no butter). It is indeed a deliciously flaky pie crust.

Apart from that pie crust, you will need:

* sugar (um, duh)
* milk and heavy whipping cream (had to buy the cream, about $2.50 for a cup - a half-pint - size carton)
* flour to thicken, and salt (had 'em)
* butter (had it)
* vanilla and nutmeg (had these on hand as well)

Once you have the pie crust made (or bought, or whatever), you will assemble the pie the following way:

First, mix the sugar, butter (still hard), salt and flour in a food processor until smooth (the closest to "smooth" I got was "soft and crumbly" but it still worked).

Dump the mixture into your pie shell and spread it out.

Next, pour the cream over the sugar mixture.

Here's where it gets different - take your fingers and gently mix it together. Make sure you do not break or tear the bottom of the pastry while doing this!

As for the vanilla and milk: combine the two together...

...and pour into the pie shell. Sprinkle nutmeg on top. Then bake it in a preheated 300°F oven for all of 90 minutes. Adams notes that it is a slow baking pie, and must be baked for this long.

When it's done, it will still bubble and wiggle. That's normal. But let it cool completely before cutting.

In terms of appearance, this pie reminded me a little bit of buttermilk pie, which of course does not cook nearly as long. The taste is different from any pie I have experienced. Of course it is sweet and creamy. What I did not expect was its very slight saltiness, a nice addition to this very sweet pie. You don't add a whole lot of salt to this dish, but it is there. Perhaps this comes from Adams' pie crust? Again, it's not unwelcome, but it adds an interesting flavor to this pie. It is so damn easy to make, this Midwestern pie might pop up alongside that breaded tenderloin sandwich in my very Mid-Atlantic kitchen again.

Next on my culinary tour of the Midwest, I cross back over Illinois to the state of early caucuses and Music Men. What does Iowa have to offer someone who isn't running for his or her party's nomination? I am not sure at this point. So I really ought to give Iowa a try.


Adams, Marcia. Heartland: The Best of the Old and the New from Midwest Kitchens. Clarkson Potter: New York, 1991.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Indiana" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Indiana".