Buttermilk Pie: Desperate, and Delicious


Buttermilk Pie

During my stay in Chattanooga, my mother and I made a traditional Southern dessert, buttermilk pie. Though I could not remember ever tasting this pie, there was a plastic jug of buttermilk in the fridge and there was no dessert for dinner, so buttermilk pie sounded like a good idea.

Along with pecan pie, red velvet cake and banana pudding, buttermilk pie is one of the classic Southern desserts, yet does not receive enough attention.

Have you seen it in your local hipster bakery yet?

In a bon appétit 2015 article, Why Desperation Pies Are Making a Comeback, buttermilk pie, along with vinegar, green tomato and mock apple pies, is considered a desperation pie, a kind of dessert created by resourcefully combining whatever ingredients are available due to the season and/or economy. It’s thought, as described by The History Bandits in this terrific overview, Desperation Pies: A Slice of Seasonal History, that desperation pies first were made by German immigrants in the 1700s and more recently and more widely, by families during the Great Depression.

Since my mother also did not remember ever baking a buttermilk pie, the experience was new to both of us, and we were both curious about how sweet the fermented milk could turn out. I tried to keep up as my mom read and acted on the recipe’s instructions; see recipe below. Eventually, she told me to just measure and make sure the pie doesn’t burn.

Made only with buttermilk, eggs, sugar, butter, a little flour,  maybe a spoon full of lemon zest, the buttermilk pie satisfies with its simplicity and sweet taste. The pie needs a full hour to slowly change its white filling into a pale custard, browned on top, and is creamier one day after being made.

Buttermilk Pie

1/2 cup butter (melted)

2 eggs

1 tablespoon flour

1 cup of sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla

1 cup of buttermilk

Break eggs in dish with melted butter (Butter needs to be cooled, otherwise the eggs could heat up. Melt on top of stove in stewer)

Sift flour and sugar together

Add to egg mixture

Beat well

Add vanilla and buttermilk, mix that up together good

Bake in a nine-inch pie crust (let it thaw or, for a frozen crust, punch holes in the bottom)

Set oven to 350 for 50 – 60 minutes

Be careful not burn but have a lovely brown

— Karen Clay, Neighborhood Services, A Taste of Traditions, Recipes from City of Chattanooga Employees, 2009

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