Buttermilk–Brown Sugar Pie
"Victuals: An Appalachian Journey, with Recipes"
Pies were the Mother of Invention because necessity required that they be made from whatever was on hand. In the summer there was no dearth of fruit that could be gathered—often by small children who would eagerly do the work for just reward later. In the winter dried apples, peaches, and squash could be simmered into a filling for the hand or fried pies beloved in the region. Vinegar pie was as tasty as, and easier to come by, than one made with lemon, and apple cider could be boiled to make a tart and tangy filling. Buttermilk was enough to turn a simple custard filling into a more complex delight. And using cornmeal as the thickener in these simple pies added character as well as flavor.
My cousin Michael Fuson introduced me to brown sugar pie. It was his favorite, he told my mother when his family moved from Corbin to Louisville and he began spending time in her kitchen. “Well, honey, then I’ll make you one,” she said. That my mother could make brown sugar pie was news to me. Mike was as generous as a homesick teenaged boy could be and allowed me an ample slice before consuming the rest on his own. It was, I thought, one of the loveliest things I’d ever eaten. But then I made a version of my own with buttermilk instead of cream, and the sum of these two pie parts was greater than the whole of all pies put together.
Single unbaked pie crust (use your favorite recipe or ¼ batch of Emily Hilliard’s Pie Crust)
1 ½ cups (packed) light brown sugar
¼ cup very finely ground cornmeal*
½ teaspoon salt 3 large eggs, at room temperature
4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
¾ cup whole buttermilk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the crust in a 9-inch pie pan and refrigerate it while making the filling.
In a medium bowl, combine the brown sugar, cornmeal, and salt.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs until frothy. Beat in the melted butter. Add the dry mixture and stir vigorously until the brown sugar is dissolved. Add the buttermilk and vanilla.
When all is well combined, pour the mixture into the pie crust and bake for 45 minutes, or until the center is set (no longer liquid, but still tender to the touch).
Allow the pie to cool until just barely warm before slicing. I like to drizzle about ½ tablespoon of buttermilk over my slice.
*Note: if your cornmeal is not very fine, you can whir it in a blender until it is a little denser than flour. If it is mostly fine but not fully so, you can sift it to remove any larger pieces.
Reprinted from Victuals: An Appalachian Journey, with Recipes. Copyright © 2016 by Ronni Lundy. Photographs copyright © 2016 by Johnny Autry. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.
Makes one 9-inch pie