Friday, August 31, 2012

Hoosier Family Traditions - Sugar Cream Pie

I wasn't born in Indiana, but my Grandma L. was. Her brother R. left Indiana as an adult, as did Grandma, to go to Montana for land to homestead. 

My uncle is buried out West. I try and visit his grave when I can.  He made a good life for himself, serving in World War I and coming home to the simple life of a farmer, homesteader.  He was 84 when he died, on his motorcycle. Not in a crash, but from his heart simply ceasing to beat as he raced down the road about a zillion miles an hour, a giant grin on his face. 84, an age others were in their rocking chairs. 

He had never married,  had no children. Dad said by the time he was ready to settle down, he was well into middle age and all the girls were long since married.  So he simply continued about his business, living a somewhat unconventional life to the hilt.
When he died no one stepped forward to bury him.  Grandma had passed, no one else in his immediate family would claim the black sheep of the family, but my Father did.

Dad never put "rules" on how someone should live for them to be family, heart and spirit was all that mattered. Dad remembered well the Uncle who gave him his first rifle at age 8, who told him stories about honor and battle, the man who lived the life he wanted to without apology, one of hard work and self sufficiency. So even though Dad had the bills of a young, growing family to pay, he paid to have Uncle R. brought to the nearest military cemetary for a burial with the consideration and respect he was due as a veteran, with family there to hear the taps.

I don't really remember him, I was too young.  I wish I did.  Dad said he'd have liked me, and I know I would have liked him. All I can do now is bring him a handful of sunflowers to be placed among all the many bare soldiers graves on this peaceful hillside.

I've been in Indiana a while, and  plan on building, from plans, my next and hopefully, final home up north in Amish country, close enough I can drive to visit friends in the cities near here and commute to work but far enough away that goblins won't raid the shop that will be bigger than my cottage. I love this state and I don't see myself leaving.

Besides, how could I leave a place where you can get a lifetime Concealed Carry Permit AND the State Pie is made of sugar and cream.

Yes, a State Pie, just as states have a State Flower (Peony)and a State Bird. After driving interstate 65 work I'd say the State Bird is the Orange Cone.

The Sugar Cream Pie -  the treat that's on almost every table at a potluck, the secret Hoosier Handshake, that simple dessert that everyone has a favorite recipe for.

The local origins likely lie with the Amish or Quaker families of Indiana who created it in pioneer days. It's popular in Pennsylvania  Dutch country and versions of it exist all over (such as the  Quebec Sugar Cream Pie). It's something the thrifty could make when the apple bin was empty with ingredients every farm kitchen had.  It's so popular that the Indiana Foodways Allaiance has even created a  a "Hoosier Pie Trail" with must-stop eateries for visitors looking to try their state pie and Indiana family owned Wick's Pies ships them to more than 25 states. 

The Range is not on the official pie trail, but we make a decent pie. There are many variations but they are all similar, you need cream, sugar and something to bind them together.  Some use flour, some use cornstarch.  Some mix the dry ingredients and liquids directly in the pastry with the fingers, some cook on the stove and finish both pie and crust in the oven.  A few are egg based, but those tend to be a little more temperamental.  This recipe uses no eggs.  Like anything made out in farm country, the secret is using the freshest ingredients possible.

Topped with  Cinnamon and/or freshly grated Nutmeg, it's even better on the second day.  So tomorrow, if anyone stops in off the trail, there will be pie (with only a tiny piece missing) on the table while we raise a toast to friends, family, and Uncle R.C..

Sugar Cream Pie on the Range

Single 9 inch pie crust recipe (the one on the sidebar for apple pie, readers have liked)
3/4 cup vanilla sugar*
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups half-and-half cream
1/2 cup whipping cream  
3 Tablespoons cornstarch 
1/2 cup sweet cream unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon Saigon Cinnamon
grated fresh Nutmeg (you won't need a whole one).
Combine sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium saucepan. Stir in the cream. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly., stirring constantly so it does not burn. Remove from heat. Stir in butter until melted. Stir in brown sugar and vanilla. Pour into pie shell. Sprinkle with cinnamon and a little grated nutmeg (I used a couple teaspoons of the butter and dotted it on the top before baking, but you don't have to). Bake at 325 degrees F about 30 minutes or until edge is bubbly and the piecrust is becoming golden.. Cool completely on a wire rack.  It will always be a bit jiggly but it will set up some as it cools. Serve at room temperature.
* to make vanilla sugar, place the following in an airtight container and let sit 8-14 days. 
- 1 vanilla bean, whole or scraped
- 2 cups granulated sugar