I have wanted to make this very pie for ages. My aunt Betty provided a similar pie recipe for our family cookbook several years ago. It seemed a perfect fit for me and tried it. This was before I had baked many pies and I undercooked it. I was worried about leaving it in the oven too long; I was worried about over-browning it; I was worried about following my instincts. I just worried, worried, worried, and I made my pie sad and it died. Deader’n a doornail, as they say. It was soup. So, I threw it in the trash can and moved on with my life.
Recently, though, I was having an exchange about something pie related, such as, “What is your favorite pie?” or “What kind of pie would you kill somebody to get?” or “What kind of pie goes best with a side of more pie?” These are the types of probing philosophical questions I deal with on Facebook, you see. And, my sweet little cousin Jeff (in chronological terms only, as he is a mountain of a man) answered, “Betty’s Buttermilk Pie.” I knew at that moment it was time for me to get off my seat and try again because now I know that while you can surely worry a pie to death, you can also love one into existence. And, that is how I go about pie baking now. It works. And, truth be told, there is no easier pie to make as long as you follow the one cardinal rule of buttermilk pie, which is DON’T TAKE IT OUT OF THE OVEN UNTIL IT IS DONE. Who said, “duh”? I heard that.
I fiddled with the recipe a little bit. I use a cornmeal crust, as was suggested in the Farm Journal’s Complete Pie Cookbook (1965) which I found at a garage sale a few years ago. How could someone let go of that one? Did they completely give up on happiness? I don’t understand.
I also added just a touch of lemon zest and lemon juice, which is an idea I got after looking at Aunt Lela’s Buttermilk Pie, a recipe in the really wonderful The Commonsense Kitchen by Tom Hudgens. This is one of those cookbooks that could actually be your only cookbook. It hits all the right notes and dishes. It has breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert and everything in between…all simple and good. These recipes call for lemon extract and I thought that sounded nice.
And, the rest is Betty. I love Betty. Have I mentioned that before? She just got back from Haiti where she was teaching rural women safe home birthing practices. Did I mention that I also admire Betty and want to be her if I grow up? But, I digress. This is a wonderful, simple, easy, sweet pie. And the filling is so easy to make that I will not tell a soul if you choose to buy a prefab crust and whip one up in a matter of minutes. I was tempted, myself, but I wanted to try the cornmeal crust.
So, who baked this pie with me in my kitchen full of imaginary friends? Well, Betty and her son Jeff were there. And the lady who let go of her pie book so that I could have it was there. I choose to believe it was just her turn to have people make pie for her, instead of the other way around. Tom was there. And Valerie and Jane were there. They gave Tom’s book to me as a gift and even waited in line to have it signed by him. And, Nancy Lou Webster was there, too. She was in the kitchen because she made a new gadget for me which I will be using forever. But I’ll get to that after you’ve have some pie. Jesse Griffiths and his wife Tamara of Dai Due rendered the beautiful leaf lard that I used. And there were a few folks from the Homestead Gristmill who made the special corn meal. I rarely bake alone.
Crust: (serves 10)
1 cup all purpose flour
⅓ cup cornmeal
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup lard, cold and cut into ½” pieces
¼ cup butter, cold and cut into ½” pieces
4 tablespoons cold water
3 eggs, room temperature
1½ cups sugar
¼ cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup butter, melted
¾ cup buttermilk
¼ teaspoon lemon zest
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1. If feasible, chill the crust ingredients in the freezer for an hour before proceeding. Place the flour, cornmeal, and salt in the bowl of a food processor with the butter and lard. Pulse approximately 10 to 12 times, or until the fats are pea sized and well incorporated with the flour and cornmeal. Add the water through the feed tube while pulsing 2 or 3 more times. Remove the dough to a floured surface and quickly work it into a ball. Do not over work the dough. There will still be pea size spots of fats, and that is good. Flatten the ball with your hand to create a disk of about 1” thickness. Wrap the dough disk in plastic wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator for an hour before proceeding.
2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Unwrap the dough, and on a floured surface or pastry cloth, roll the dough into a circle of approximately 12” in diameter. Place the dough onto a 9” pie plate and carefully lift and ease the dough into place (and by this I mean, don’t stretch the dough into place). Snip off all but a half inch of the overhang with scissors. Fold under the excess dough and decorate the edge as you like. Place the pie plate in the freezer to chill the dough until you have prepared the filling.
3. For the filling, in a small bowl, combine the sugar, flour and salt with a whisk. In a medium bowl, whisk the three eggs for a minute. Add the flour and sugar mixture and continue to whisk. Add the melted butter, the zest and the juice and whisk to incorporate. Add the buttermilk and incorporate it thoroughly. Pour the filling gently into the shell.
4. Bake the pie for approximately 45 minutes. This time is truly approximate and can be up to an hour. Bake the pie until it is not jiggly in the middle when you agitate it a bit. If it jiggles, leave it in the oven and check it at 5 minute increments. When the center no longer jiggles, remove it from the oven and allow it to rest for at least 2 hours before slicing and serving. Expect it to settle a little during that time.
Nancy Lou Webster is sometimes called the “ole goat” by her son. This makes her laugh and it makes me laugh too. She is an artisan who makes exceedingly special tools out of branches of mesquite wood or whatever other kind of wood speaks to her. You see, she doesn’t so much bend wood to her will as she discovers what creations are already lurking in a branch. I did a post on her treenware recently, after I bought one of her special treen spoons. But she and I have been corresponding since, and she made a wonderful pie server for me which worked like a charm and I thought was the epitome of pie service. Then, she got to thinking about pies and how troublesome it is to get out that first piece of pie and she created a “First Piece of Pie Gitter.” This is the tool pictured just above. She sent it to me just to see what I thought of it. It is wonderful. It is a cross between a shoe horn and a letter opener, handmade out of a simple branch of wood. I immediately told her that I needed another one for a friend. She let me know that she went on a small tear and made about seven of them. So, if you too want a First Piece of Pie Gitter, you better send her a note and buy one before they are all gone. She said that she wasn’t sure when she would git in the mood to make them again. Plus, you will be doing yourself a favor just getting to know her a little. She is a true artist, and a very nice person. I sell a few of her spoons at a time in my ETSY shop, if you are interested.