My quest to replicate a recipe for Sugar Cream Pie started with a story my friend told me about the pie his grandmother used to make when he was a child.
"Belly Ache Pie" is what the grandchildren called it, because when she took the steaming hot pies out of the oven, they would place the pie in a bowl and pour cold milk over it. Then, they would eat it until their belly ached.
My friend said he would finish his pie no matter how much it hurt afterward, thus dubbing his favorite dessert "Belly Ache Pie."
If you like custard pies, Sugar Cream Pie will
surprise you with its sweet, creamy flavor and pumpkin pie-like consistency.
His grandmother made the pie so often, she never had to consult a recipe, always creating the southern treat straight from memory. The problem: She never wrote it down, and her secret passed with her.
Once I heard his story, I began my quest to duplicate the treat from his childhood. In my search, I found many recipes for Sugar Cream Pie - some called for cornstarch, while others utilized egg and brown sugar. Since my friend said his grandmother made it with the simplest ingredients, I chose a recipe comprising mainly household staples: flour, sugar, butter, cream, vanilla and nutmeg.
I've never made anything quite like Sugar Cream Pie, and I found stirring the cream and sugar was a bit more challenging than I thought. It's easy to scorch the concoction if you aren't careful, and the mixture has to achieve a thickness that will sneak up on you if you aren't paying attention.
Fool-proof Pie Crust
4 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup water
1 3/4 cups Crisco
1 tablespoon white or cider vinegar
1 large egg
In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar and salt. Cut in shortening with fork until crumbly. In a small bowl, beat egg, water and vinegar. Add to flour mixture and stir until moist. Divide dough into four portions and shape into flat patties. Wrap in wax paper or plastic wrap and chill for a half hour. Makes four pie shells or two pie shells with lattice.
Sugar Cream ("Belly Ache") Pie
9-inch pie shell
2 cups whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 tablespoons flour
nutmeg to taste
Mix sugar, flour and salt together in a saucepan. Add cream and vanilla, whisking to avoid clumps. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until mixture starts to thicken. (More flour may be necessary if it isn't thickened after 15 to 20 minutes.) Once mixture has thickened, butter the bottom of the pie crust and pour in the filling. Bake at 450 F for 10 minutes; reduce heat to 250 F and bake another 25 minutes or until top of pie begins to brown. Serve chilled or freshly baked and paired with cold milk.
Normally when I make this dessert, I use a recipe for the pie crust that was taken from the kitchen of another friend, what her family calls "Fool-proof Pie Crust." It really is fool-proof and quite easy to make. However, you can also save a little time and use a premade uncooked pie shell instead.
The recipe calls for whipping cream, but that can be substituted for half-and-half or a mixture of the two. The pie is very rich and sweet, so using half-and-half will actually cut down on some of the richness if you prefer a lighter taste. But either way, it is still a very rich, very southern dessert, and if your palate can't take southern-style sweet tea, you may not be able to fully appreciate the experience of Sugar Cream Pie.
But if sweet and creamy suits you, then you may find yourself eating it until your belly aches.
When I delivered the fresh pie to my friend, he told me it was pretty close to his grandma's and then proceeded to eat the whole thing in one sitting. I consider that a victory and concede that no matter how many recipes I try, I may never fully replicate her creation.