November 28, 2013

Grandma's Sugar Cream Pie: A Thanksgiving Tradition

Every family has its own Thanksgiving traditions, stories, and favorite dishes. It’s a rare Thanksgiving table, though, that doesn’t include some sort of pie. Thanksgiving and pie go together like, well, turkey and gravy. I always make pumpkin pie, spiced up with extra cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Other families roll out the apple, cherry, pecan, sweet potato, or lemon meringue pies. But my childhood Thanksgivings always featured my Grandma Ballenger’s specialty: sugar cream pie.

sugar cream pie Thanksgiving Pennsylvania Dutch

Nora (Eberhard) Ballenger’s parents came from Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, and when asked about her ancestry, all she could tell me was that her family was Pennsylvania Dutch. Sugar cream pie was one of her Thanksgiving staples, so naturally it became one of my favorites, too. She told me her mother, Mary (Comfort) Eberhard, used to make it when her jars of home-canned apples and other fruit ran out in the winter.

Grandma didn’t use a recipe when she cooked, and was at a bit of a loss when, as a young bride, I asked her to write it down for me. She said you just take a little flour, some sugar, and some milk and mix them together. Well, let’s just say my first efforts proved it’s not quite that simple. Over the years I’ve tweaked the recipe to get it just the way I like it, creamy on the bottom with a milky layer on top and lots of nutmeg. It usually sets up just fine, but I still cross my fingers when I take it out of the oven.

Here, then, is the recipe I use for Grandma’s 
“Pennsylvania Dutch” Sugar Cream Pie:

Place a refrigerated pie crust in a deep dish glass pie plate and crimp edges (I use Pillsbury’s Pie Crusts). Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a small bowl, mix together:  ½ cup flour
                                             1 cup sugar
Stir in until smooth:                1 cup whole or 2% milk
Pour mixture into unbaked pie crust. Gradually pour in another ½ cup or so of milk to fill and pull a fork through to gently mix (don’t stir with a spoon).
Cut into thin slivers:                ½-1 Tbsp. butter
Drop the slivers of butter onto the pie.
Sprinkle with:                          dashes of ground nutmeg

Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Lower temperature to 325 degrees, and bake another 40 minutes. Transfer carefully from oven. Pie may seem a little runny but will firm up as it cools. Refrigerate after cooling.

What pies are part of your Thanksgiving tradition? Whatever they are, I wish you a relaxing and enjoyable holiday, and hope you, like me, have much to be thankful for this year. Happy Thanksgiving!

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  1. Sugar pie, or "tarte au sucre", is also a tradition in my French-Canadian family, Shelley. We didn't have it at our Thanksgiving in October, but once or twice during the fall and winter months.

    1. That's really interesting to hear, Yvonne. I wonder if the recipes are similar? Food reflects our cultural heritage in so many ways. Thanks for reading, and for sharing this neat tidbit!

    2. Our mother (Mildred Eberhard Gilliland) made this pie for us, also. She called it "brown pie", I assume because the cinnamon and nutmeg would help the tops of the pie turn "brown" during baking. It was sure good. Mother also made apple dumplings along with the "brown pie", usually on Saturdays when I and my brother Sherwyn were kids. Again, thanks for the memories. Your "second cousin", Ron Gilliland


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