Sweet Tea + Sweet Tea Pie

Sweet Tea Pie

We are one, I repeat, one day away from summer! We had a positively searing weekend, and I was all about it. Do you have any habits, patterns, or routines that change with the seasons? For me, summer means that, in the mornings, I have no interest in hot coffee, but instead I want iced tea or a matcha latte. I love those little changes my body insists on, without much thought, because it gets me really excited for the upcoming season.

And, speaking of iced tea, June is National Iced Tea Month. (Side note: I think people wouldn’t be so eye-rolly with national food days/months if we just knew where the hell they came from. For example, I just recently found out that National Rhubarb Day is in January. January?! But why?!)

Anyway, at least iced tea month in June makes sense. It’s a great porch-sitting drink for a great porch-sitting month.

So here’s my question: Are you a plain tea, or a sweet tea person? Have you ever even had sweet tea? I used to hear that sweet tea was especially a southern favorite, but I dismissed that as just a stereotype. But it turns out many of my friends who grew up in the south really do love sweet tea!

In Indiana, when you went to restaurants, usually the only option was sweetened tea. (When I got to Chicago and was asked if I wanted sweetened or unsweetened, I thought it was a trick.) But sweetened tea and sweet tea are two different beasts. The main difference between sweetened iced tea and sweet tea is when the sugar is added. Traditional sweet tea is sweetened while still warm or hot, while it’s brewing. In fact, in the early 2000’s, a politician in Georgia, partially as a joke, drafted a bill requiring that “sweet tea must be sweetened when brewed,” and that any restaurant serving iced tea must also serve sweet tea. The bill never went to vote, but it does give you an idea of how serious southerners are about their sweet tea.

So how did sweet tea become part of southern identity?

The very British practice of drinking hot tea first came to the colonies with the British. (Tea drinking became more commonplace in England when Catherine de Braganza, a Portuguese princess, arrived in England to marry King Charles II in 1662. The first gift of two pounds of tea were presented to Charles II by the British East India Company two years earlier–and they have never looked back.) Before the American colonies fought for their independence, disputes over the taxation of British tea lead to the Boston Tea Party, a protest by colonists against British taxation without representation, which would become one of the first steps toward the American Revolutionary War. In the years that followed, Americans generally tended to favor coffee, thought of as a more “patriotic” beverage.

By the early 1800’s, cold green tea was being served, often spiked with alcohol, as a punch. There are recipes for a cold tea punch dating back to 1839 in Kentucky. By the mid-to-late-1800’s, iced tea, sans alcohol, began making its appearance in the north. Before the days of ice production or refrigeration, iced tea was non-existent in the south. The first recipe for sweet tea came from Housekeeping in Old Virginia, a cookbook by Marion Cabell Tyree that was printed in 1879. This recipe called for the use of green tea and suggested the sugar be added after steeping. Green tea was the preferred choice for tea drinking, until lower-cost black tea from Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia was made accessible. And during the second War War, the US was almost completely cut off from its supply of green tea, which strengthened Americans’ black tea habit.

Sweet iced tea became a popular alternative to alcohol during Prohibition, and it was also during this time that it began appearing more often in Southern cookbooks, eventually turning it into a staple in the south.

To play with this ingredient–and to, you know, make a pie–I decided to make a sweet tea pie! Sweet tea pie appears not to be an old southern recipe. I can find references to sweet tea pie dating back to only the early 2000s in newspapers and, in 2010, Martha Hall Foose included a recipe for a sweet tea pie in her book Screen Doors and Sweet Tea: Recipes and Tales from a Southern Cook (which won a James Beard Award). I guess it’s not, as I hoped, very historical. Too bad, because it’s heavenly.

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Sweet Tea Pie
Makes one 9-inch pie. Recipe from Taste of the South Magazine.

Ingredients:
1-crust pie shell (I love this recipe from Epicurious, halved. You can also use store-bought, frozen.)
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp flour
1 tbsp cornmeal
1/8 tsp salt
2 egg yolks
2 eggs
1/2 cup strongly-brewed unsweetened tea, cooled
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
Whipped cream and lemon zest for serving

Instructions: 

Roll out your pie crust to fit a 9-inch pie pan. Trim, fold, and crimp edges, then poke holes all over the bottom and sides of the crust with a fork. Trim a piece of parchment paper to fit the inside of the pie crust and fill with pie weights. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, while refrigerating your pie crust for 15 minutes.

Bake your chilled pie crust for 15 minutes, remove from oven and allow to cool at least 30 minutes as your prepare the pie filling.

In a bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cornmeal, and salt. Stir together, then add the eggs and the egg yolks. Beat together until everything is well combined.

Add the tea, melted butter, and lemon zest. Stir to combine. Pour into the pre-baked crust.

Bake for 35-45 minutes. Begin checking for doneness at 35 minutes. The middle of the pie should not jiggle when done.

Allow to cool completely before serving, or refrigerate until ready to serve.

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Whether you take your iced tea sweet or “unsweet,” I think you’ll love this creamy, tea-scented custard pie, reminiscent of my home state’s sugar cream pie. And, although you brew unsweetened tea for this recipe, you eventually mix it with butter and sugar–amen! It’s not a great beauty but, guys, it’s good. You will find yourself taking bites and asking, “What is that flavor?” It’s not exactly tea-flavored. For sure you will taste the lemon, while there is only a hint of tea.

Next time I really want to make it with green tea (the original tea of choice!) to see if I notice a difference. You guys will be the first to know!

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Chocolate Coca-Cola Cake

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Happy New Year!

We are still trying to dig out of the holidays over here. A couple days before Christmas, we made our annual trek up to Marie’s for pizza. On Christmas Eve morning, I made Chex Mix (I used the recipe that one of my guests, Mandy Ross, shared on here a while back, because it’s very easy and very good), while playing Christmas music. We had our traditional Christmas Eve dinner of steak, potatoes, and mulled wine. Then we woke up to a white Christmas, exchanged gifts, and had a Christmas dinner of delicious Indian food with Alex’s dad. Solid times. But now it’s just cold, cold, cold. It’s the time of the year when I try not to leave my house and I eat my body weight in Clementines.

For New Year’s Eve, we did nothing. Alex kept giving me updates on the temperature that went something like, “It feels like -9… and now it feels like -17”. I fell asleep by 10:30, woke up at 11:59:45 to countdown to the New Year, then promptly fell back asleep, like a rock star.

And, speaking of New Year’s Eve, you may want to stop reading right now if you made a New Year’s resolution to avoid any of the following: cake… chocolate… carbs… desserts… soda… butter… Because this post is basically your New Year’s resolutions’ biggest nightmare.

Last year, when Alex was on a business trip in Atlanta, I got lost down a rabbit hole reading about Coca-Cola’s history and requested that Alex bring me something called a Coca-Cola cake. Unfortunately, he was traveling with colleagues and didn’t feel comfortable demanding a stop to buy cake. So, the idea of a chocolate cake made with soda pop sat at the back of my mind. Until now.

Today marks the 230th anniversary of Georgia becoming a state. And, of course, Coca-Cola was born and raised in Georgia. Coca-Cola was created by John Pemberton, a pharmacist by trade who suffered a saber wound to the chest (!!) during the Civil War and became addicted to opiates as a way to combat his pain. He developed the early version of Coca-Cola, made from coca leaves (and, yes, at least trace amounts its famous alkaloid), and kola nuts, which contain both caffeine and other stimulants that Pemberton hoped would help conquer his addiction. Before his death, needing money, Pemberton began selling some of the rights to the Coca-Cola formula. After his death, his son Charley, also suffering from alcoholism and a morphine addiction, possibly coerced, sold the remaining rights to Asa Griggs Candler, a business tycoon who would later become the mayor of Atlanta, and who was responsible for the aggressive marketing that led to Coca-Cola’s status as an American staple.

As for the cake, there is not a lot of information on how it got started. It doesn’t seem that it was created by the Coca-Cola Company as a marketing ploy. There have been suggestions that, because of its importance to American morale during the second World War (both Dwight Eisenhower and Omar Bradley were said to be addicted to it!), the Coca-Cola company was not subject to the sugar rationing that restricted the American public, so it was a way to sweeten a chocolate cake. That seemed like a fair assumption, but the recipe also calls for an egg, and a fair amount of butter and buttermilk–items that were either rationed themselves, or just scarce at the time. More likely, it seems that the recipe was created by happy accident, as a way for home bakers in the south to infuse the beloved soda into their chocolate cake. The earliest recipes for the cake that I found were from newspapers in the 1960’s, and interestingly enough, not from Georgia. A frequently-used version is often attributed to Lee Avery Catts, a member of the Junior League of Atlanta, whose recipe was published in the Junior League’s Atlanta Cooknotes starting in the early 80’s. Her recipe closely follows the recipes I found in earlier newspapers.

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Chocolate Coca-Cola Cake
Serves 12-15. I followed this recipe from Serious Eats, which seems to be very close to several recipes I found from newspapers in the 60’s.

Ingredients:
For cake:
Cooking spray
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tsp baking soda
2 sticks of butter, unsalted
1/4 cup cocoa powder, unsweetened
1 cup Coca-Cola
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups miniature marshmallows

For icing:
2 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick of butter, unsalted
1/4 cup cocoa powder, unsweetened
6 tbsp Coca-Cola
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans, optional

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat the inside of a 9×13-inch pan with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, white and brown sugar, and salt. Whisk to combine.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the buttermilk and baking soda. Stir to combine thoroughly. (Be sure to use a bowl that is at least 1 cup in size because the mixture will foam up to almost double.)

In a small saucepan, combine the butter, cocoa, and Coca-Cola. Heat to boiling, stirring occasionally. Pour the Coca-Cola mixture into the flour mixture and stir until fully combined. Add the buttermilk mixture, stirring until combined. Add the eggs and vanilla, and finally stir in the marshmallows.

Pour the mixture into the 9×13-inch pan, spreading the mixture to the edges with a spoon and moving the marshmallows around so they’re evenly distributed.

Bake between 35 and 45 minutes. The cake is done when a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Allow the cake to cool for about 10 minutes before beginning the icing.

Sift the confectioner’s sugar and salt into a small bowl. In a small saucepan, combine the butter, cocoa powder, and Coca-Cola. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Pour the Coca-Cola mixture into the confectioner’s sugar. Whisk together until completely combined and smooth. Stir in the vanilla.

Pour the icing over the still-warm cake. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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This cake was actually quite different than I imagined it would be. I figured it would be extremely sweet and very dense like a brownie. Definitely not! It’s actually just a really tasty chocolate cake. You can also include pecans in your icing. I did not, because I’m almost exclusively a no-nuts-in-dessert type of girl. Use your discretion.

Happy birthday to the great state of Georgia! And, Alex says, congrats to your Dawgs! (I literally have no idea what that means.)

Fig, Thyme, and Balsamic Shrub

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It’s been a while since I last posted, primarily because I needed a little break after the election. I originally planned on posting this right after the election, making a little joke about how this shrub is really great in cocktails while you’re waiting for election results. Then Wednesday morning came, and I couldn’t. I just couldn’t bring myself to make little jokes about the election results as a segue to this recipe which seemed entirely less important. I will say this: This is a food blog, so I’ll talk about food. But it’s also a history blog, so I hope we’re writing a good one. Hugs for everyone. We’re all in this together…

Last summer, Alex and I were meandering about the Pilsen neighborhood, pointing at old buildings and saying, “That one’s pretty.” Eventually, we ended up at Dusek’s in Thalia Hall. Around the turn of the century, Pilsen was a predominately Czech neighborhood, named after the city of Plzeň. Thalia Hall was, historically, a Bohemian Public Hall, dedicated to arts and entertainment. In late 2013, the space was updated as a restaurant, cocktail bar, and music venue. It was hot out that day and, as we sidled up to the bar, I ordered one tall glass of water and a house-made soda. Not just any soda, though. It was made with strawberry, rosemary, peppercorn and balsamic shrub, with a bit of soda water. I don’t usually drink soda, but it was so good that it made me forget, for one fleeting minute, how much I enjoy gin. That’s really good. Since then, I cannot get it out of my mind, which got me thinking about how I could make my own shrub soda syrup at home. If you’ve ever made your own simple syrup, you should find it a breeze to make your own shrub. It’s as easy as chopping the fruit of your choice, tossing it with some sugar, and allowing it to sit for a few days. Then you strain it, mix in some vinegar and add soda water (and maybe a little gin) for a super-refreshing drink.

You have probably seen shrubs on cocktail menus, they are often added to drinks, but they’re not alcoholic, unlike bitters (which I often used to confuse with shrubs) which are often made with alcohol and were historically used as medicine. Shrubs are made with fruit, sugar, and vinegar. No alcohol required. You can make them with alcohol, and it’s wonderful, but it’s not necessary. Also, shrubs might be hip right now, but they’re not new. Drinking-vinegars were very popular in colonial America, but their history dates back to Babylon, where they were used to make water potable. Historically, they have also been used by sailors to incorporate Vitamin C into their water, in hopes of preventing scurvy.

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Fig, Thyme, and Balsamic Shrub

Shrub Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups figs, roughly chopped
1-1 1/2 cups sugar
3-4 large sprigs of thyme
3/4 cups balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar, optional

Shrub Instructions:
In a large, sterilized, mason jar, combine the chopped figs, sugar, peppercorns, and thyme sprigs. Close lid tightly and give a big shake.

Allow the jar to sit in a warm area (in the sun, on a windowsill is good), for about 3 or 4 days. Shake vigorously at least a few times a day.

At the end of several days, you will find that the fruit and sugar has created a good amount of juice.

Strain through a fine mesh sieve to remove all pieces of fruit, herb and seeds. (Using figs, I had to strain a few times to get all the seeds out.)

Pour into a 2-cup measuring cup. Begin slowly adding vinegar, about 1/4 cup at a time, stirring and tasting between each addition. When you’ve reached your preferred taste, pour back into the mason jar (or into a fresh jar with a lid).

This shrub should keep in the fridge about 2-3 months. If it starts to change color, it’s time to toss it.

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The most wonderful thing about drinking shrubs is the flexibility. I know it’s getting chillier now, but sometimes it’s nice to have something refreshing, not too sweet, and fruity. The other cool thing is, when you start with a delicious syrup like this, you can add some gin/vodka/rum. It’s tangy, it’s sweet. Since making it, I’ve been enjoying it with soda water right after dinner. I’m already trying to figure out how to work it into a Negroni, my personal favorite cold-weather cocktail. Alex thinks it would be good with bourbon. It’s a winner, folks!

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