The Cookbook Collector: United States of Pie + Blackberry Jam Pie

July 4, 2012

The United States of Pie by Adrienne Kane is a humble cookbook, free from flashy photographs and glossy pages. Rather, it is reminiscent of your grandmother's recipe box, full of pies that have been long forgotten.  This cookbook outlines regional variations of this all-American dessert, from east to west and north to south.  Simple and straightforward,  Kane guides the baker through the basics of making pie including a foolproof recipe for her standard pie crust.  The emphasis of this book is using seasonal, local produce to create a pie that is representative of your place.  Delve into classic like cheddar-crusted apple pie and shoofly pie from the Northeast; Southern favorites including key lime pie and sweet potato meringue pie; and olallieberry pie and avocado pie from the West.  This summer, you can a bake a pie for any occasion and be confident of the result.

Blackberry Jam Pie


       Imagine the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich that you have ever tasted: ethereal white bread, sweet jam with just the right number of seeds to stick in your teeth, and salty peanut butter. Now, take the peanut butter out of the equation, and that is what you get when you make this pie: a buoyant, jammy confection that is piled in a traditional salty short crust.  

     This pie was made by Mrs. H. V. Parsons and won the prize at the Louisiana State Fair. Her recipe has been passed down through her family for sixty-five years, and I can see why. It’s both a luxurious and a simple pie. Because it calls for blackberry jam instead of fresh berries, you can make it even in the dead of winter, when the taste of fresh berries is a distant memory. The original recipe, in true Southern fashion, calls for a lot of sugar. I cut the sugar down. If you use a high-quality jam with minimal extra ingredients, the true berry flavor will shine through. The voluminous meringue adds a chewy crust, just like the bread in a jam sandwich.

1⁄2 recipe Standard Pie Dough (page 28)

For the filling:
3 large egg yolks
1⁄4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup blackberry jam
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour 1 cup buttermilk

For the meringue:
3 large egg whites, at room temperature 1⁄4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Pinch of kosher salt
6 tablespoons sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Prepare the pie shell: Preheat the oven to 400°F. On a well- floured surface, roll out the dough until it is about 1⁄8-inch thick and will fit a 9-inch pie plate. Gently pick up the dough, center it over the pie plate, and ease it into the plate. Trim the edges of the dough to leave a 1-inch overhang. Fold the edges under, and then decoratively crimp the perimeter.

With the tines of a fork, prick the bottom of the pie shell in several places. Line the shell with a round of parchment paper cut to size. Pour in about 2 cups of dried beans (these can be reused), and bake the shell for 10 minutes. Remove the beans and parchment paper, and continue to bake the shell for another 8 to 10 minutes, until the crust is beginning to brown. Remove the piecrust from the oven and let it cool to room temperature while you make the filling.

Make the filling: Combine the egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, jam, flour, and buttermilk in the top of a double boiler, and mix well. Place the pan over simmering water and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens to a puddinglike consistency, about 7 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, and continue to stir the custard until it cools slightly. Pour the custard into the cooled pie shell. Lay a sheet of plastic wrap directly over the surface of the filling to prevent a skin from forming, and let the pie cool to room temperature.

Make the meringue: Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until frothy. Add the salt and continue beating. As the egg whites turn glossy, slowly add the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, incorporating each spoonful before adding the next. Continue to beat until the whites form stiff peaks but are not absolutely dry, about 4 minutes. Fold in the vanilla.

Spoon some of the meringue around the perimeter of the pie, and spread it until it touches the inner edge of the crust. (It is important to create a seal between the meringue and the crust, to protect against shrinkage.) Mound the rest of the meringue in the center, and then spread it out to meet the meringue along the perimeter. The meringue should cover the entire top of the pie.

Bake the pie for 10 to 15 minutes, until the meringue is golden brown. Remove the pie from the oven and let it cool to room temperature before enjoying.

Standard Pie Dough

Good pie dough is an exercise in balance. You want it to be flaky yet buttery, crisp yet substantial, salty yet sweet. That’s a lot of requirements for one lump of dough, and this is the recipe that will deliver just what you are seeking. This dough is especially friendly to beginners.

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1⁄2-inch cubes
6 tablespoons vegetable shortening, chilled, cut into 1⁄2-inch cubes
6 to 10 tablespoons ice water

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt until well blended and free of lumps. Add the butter and the shortening and toss gently to coat. With your fingertips, work the fats into the flour, rubbing the larger pieces of butter and shortening between your fingers until the mixture resembles gravel.

Sprinkle on the water, 1 tablespoon at a time, starting with a total of 3 tablespoons and then gradually adding more water if needed. As you add the water, blend it in with your fingertips, as quickly as possible, pulling the mixture together and creating a dough. The dough will become less sticky and more of a mass when enough water has been added.  Finally, knead the dough minimally in the bowl to make sure it has just enough moisture. 

Divide the dough in half. (One mound of dough should weigh approximately 10 ½ ounces.)  Place each half on a sheet of plastic wrap and seal it.  Gently form each one into a disk roughly ¾-inch thick.  Place the wrapped dough in the refrigerator and leave it for at least 1 hour, or up to 2 days, before rolling it out.  The dough can be frozen for up to 1 month and defrosted in the refrigerator before using.

UNITED STATES OF PIE by Adrienne Kane, Copyright © 2012 by Adrienne Kane. Reprinted courtesy of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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