I love custard pie. I think it’s my favorite dessert. At least today.
I’ve always loved plain old custard, too. Baked in little glass custard cups with a healthy dose of nutmeg sprinkled over the top, it’s a simple, somewhat decadent dessert.
I know a lot of people who have an aversion to custard. Why? No clue, but if you don’t like custard pie, blame this week’s column on Kerri Kelley.
I was all set to write about lemon sponge pie, but Kerri mentioned custard pie, which apparently her awesome aunt Helen Lewis loves, and I did an abrupt about-face. Doesn’t take much: ADD.
Before I get into custard pie specifically, I’ll give you a little info about pies in general.
The book I told you about last week that my cousin Christienne sent me from England, “What Caesar Did for My Salad,” has a section about pies. The book is awesome, but unfortunately every time I open it I drift off into la-la land. I really need to learn to focus.
In a section titled “A brief history of the pie,” the author, Albert Jack, says, “Pies are an essential part of the cuisine of Central and Northern Europe and occur elsewhere (such as North America) only as introduced dishes, probably spread by the Romans, who in turn pinched the idea from the ancient Greeks.”
Phew. Nothing brief about the first sentence. 🙂
It’s suggested by food historian Alan Davidson that the word “pie” may have derived from “magpie.” A magpie is a bird that collects a variety of things, and apparently the earliest pies contained a variety of ingredients before evolving into a pie of today, that usually only contains a single ingredient or a couple ingredients.
I wonder if anyone ever called those early pies garbage pies. My mother used to make something with all the leftovers in the fridge thrown into a big pot with some chicken stock, and call it garbage soup. She was good at making us kids think stuff like that was real food. 🙂
So Jack goes on to say that the first pies, as we think of them today, were called “coffins,” which apparently used to mean “container,” and were mostly only served to nobility. They were big and usually filled with various meats in sauces. The crust, which was tough and not very palatable, acted as a kind of casserole dish that was tossed, or fed to the servants, after being emptied.
Nice. Reminds me of the meals we lowly servers were fed at the Samoset in Rockland in the old days. It was back when the hotel was a huge, grand, old building. I worked there the summer after I graduated from high school. We all stayed in a dorm behind the hotel – the servants quarters. It was really a pretty awesome summer, but for the meals we were subjected to in the little dining hall.
Anyway, here’s my recipe for custard pie:
(First I have to apologize. I used Pillsbury crust again. I’m sorry, but it’s a shortcut I can live with because it makes the whole pie thing so much easier. I promise that when I make the lemon sponge pie I’ll use the crust recipe sent to me by Marie Bourne, from Round Pond. Blame it on the blizzard of Jan. 20. I was too tired from shoveling to make pie crust.)
So whether you make your own crust or cheat, bake it about halfway before adding the custard:
Scald 2 cups whole milk and a cup of cream (heavy, light, whipping, whatever) with 1/2 tsp salt over medium heat until steam starts rising and tiny bubbles start popping up around the edge.
Whisk 4 eggs together with 2/3 cup sugar. Stir in a little of the milk mixture, after it has cooled a bit, then combine that with the rest of the milk mixture. Add a teaspoon vanilla and a sprinkling of nutmeg.
I’m not sure if I used a larger – maybe 10-inch – pie plate for this last time, but there was enough custard this time to fill two smaller pie plates. Go figure. But this was the impetus for delivering one of them to Kerri’s awesome aunt Helen, who was at Miles recovering from a broken fibula.
Pour the filling into the cooled crust and sprinkle with as much nutmeg as you like. I love nutmeg and swear one of these days I’m going to break down and get it fresh from Kim at Eventide and grind it myself. Probably the same day I make homemade pie crust. Which reminds me – I’m going to a pie class at Eventide on Wednesday. Then I won’t have any excuse to not make my own crust.
Where was I? Oh yeah! Cover the edges of the crust with some foil so it doesn’t burn and stick in a preheated, 350-degree oven for around a half-hour. It’s done if the custard jiggles like Jell-O when you shake it a little.
If it’s close to 5 p.m., have a Manhattan, then something fabulous for dinner, and follow it up with a piece of creamy, luscious custard pie.
And the beat goes on. See ya next week.
(Suzi Thayer paints, feeds stray cats, eats good food, and drinks Manhattans. She’d love to hear from you with ideas and recipes for her column. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.)