There are two foods distinct (or nearly so) to my home state of Indiana: the breaded pork tenderloin and the sugar cream pie. In fact, those are the official state sandwich and state pie. They were voted on by the legislature and everything!
And Thanksgiving has come and gone for me without a single sugar cream pie. I spend two weeks before Thanksgiving searching the local grocery stores, but they don’t carry sugar cream pies. Also, their pumpkin pies look a little dubious.
I check Google for anybody in the Orlando selling sugar cream pies, but no joy. None of the local bakeries make them either. Wicks can ship them, and it’s only $23 for a box of 6. Problem is, it costs another $75 to have them overnighted and refrigerated, so it’s nearly $100 for a box of 6. Still, that’s only $16.33 per pie, so it’s an option if we ever get a bunch of homesick Hoosiers together.
I’m down to my only option: I have to make one myself. I’ve never made a sugar cream pie — hell, I’ve never made a pie at all — so this will be a first. But I know my way around the kitchen, so this should be fairly easy. However, things that are relatively simple tend to be very difficult, so I’m a little nervous.
I ask my friend, Joe Shoemaker, if he’ll share his sugar cream pie (the best I’ve ever had), but he refuses to help.
“No can do,” he says. “Family recipe.”
He does give some guidance, however, and tells me to avoid anything that calls for eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg, or anything but pure cream. There are dozens of sugar cream pie recipes online, and I read through several of them.
My biggest takeaway? I’m annoyed at the number of them that refer to people from our state as “Indianans.”
“Indianans?” What the what? I understand Oklahomans, Iowans, and Ohioans. I even get Oregonians, Rhode Islanders, and Michiganders. But what the hell is an Indianan?
(Speaking of the Hoosier state, it was our 199th birthday yesterday. That means we are in our 200th year as a state. Take that, Hawaii!)
I pick a recipe that claims it was based on the original recipe printed on the back of Wicks pie crusts many years ago. Also, because it’s on the Indiana Public Media website — Indianans, my ass! (Also, I know the author, Heather Tallman.)
The Baking of the Sugar Cream Pie
My family is worried about my cooking attempts, because they usually end up being loud and a little swear-y. They don’t understand that’s part of the fun of cooking for me. I get to vent my frustrations by banging pots and pans around, and swearing at the stove for being an unreliable piece of shit. I understand why people may worry, since I’m also armed with knives and fire, but I actually love to cook, and I have never stabbed or burned anything. Other than my own hands.
I study the instructions and follow them perfectly. I put the ingredients — cream, milk, flour, and sugar — in a large bowl and beat the hell out of the mixture.
This turns out to be a problem. The end result is a little bubbly because all that beating let in too much air. It turns out I’m supposed to slowly stir everything. I also miss Joe’s advice about the pure cream and used a mixture of cream and milk, because that’s what Heather Tallman’s recipe called for.
Oh well, next time I’ll just stir it and let the mixture sit for a bit.
(“Next time?” Yes, family, there will be a next time.)
I drop pats of unsalted butter on the mix, also as the recipe calls for. Another mistake, because the butter doesn’t melt and sink into the mixture. (Next time. . .)
I’m supposed to bake it at 450 degrees for 10 minutes, and then 350 degrees for 30 minutes. After the correct time, the pie is still very runny, so I leave it in for another 18 minutes or so. Our stove in our rental home is an unreliable piece of shit, but I’m surprisingly calm about it all. I don’t swear at my pie the entire day.
I also put nutmeg on the filling, despite Joe’s warning, because I’m hoping it will disguise any flaws — like giant squares of butter globbed onto the pie’s surface — and to give the pie a crème brûlée look. I decide to tell people that was intentional. (Next time. . .)
Tonight, the Kerouac House is holding a potluck dinner to welcome the winter writer-in-residence, Sarah Viren. Despite my not-quite-Shoemaker-esque pie, I’m going to bring it to dinner.
I liken my role of Hoosier to that of a missionary. I want to bring the gospel of the sugar cream pie to the lost souls of Florida and Texas. We’ll see how they like it, or whether I’ve ruined the chance to get them to try it again at my own potluck dinner in March.
Update: The pie turned out very well. It was very smooth, creamy, and sweet. Everyone who tried it seemed to like it, and no one died. I had a few ingredients left over, so I’m going to make it again and see if I can improve on it. I may take the pie into my office the next day and share with my office mates.