The Quakers and the Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie

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Happy, happy #piday, everyone!  For the first time since December, it’s snowing here in Chicago. Like, really snowing. In March. Less than a week before Spring. To remind us all where we live and that we didn’t beat the system this winter. It’s bogus. But, what an excellent day to make (and eat) pie! For this, the most special of days, I made the official pie of my home state, Indiana: The Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie.

I have mentioned that I’m from Indiana before. I haven’t lived there for over a decade now but it is, for all technical purposes, home. My family, both sides, have lived in Indiana for well over a century. My dad’s side, mostly Scottish and German, came from Pennsylvania, down through Ohio, finally settling in Indiana in the mid-1800’s. My mom’s parents were both originally from Central Indiana. My maternal grandfather’s family were Clevengers and were part of a very large group of Quakers in the area.

Originally hailing from Guilford and Randolph Counties in North Carolina, Quakers, also known as the Society of Friends, were fierce abolitionists in a southern state where slavery was a way of life for many landowners. Unable to change the laws in North Carolina, throngs of Quakers began migrating to the free states of Ohio and Indiana in the north. My particular family line settled in Randolph County, which was named after the county they left in North Carolina. And it is generally agreed that with them came a version of the sugar cream pie recipe.

The sugar cream pie falls into the category of “desperation pie.” Desperation pies could be made by cash-strapped families with low-cost ingredients that they often already had on hand. They could also be made during the winter months when fruits were less available. The sugar cream pie was traditionally favored for its simplicity (another hallmark of the Quakers), which allowed for farm wives to toss everything into the crust, stir it with a finger, and pop it into the oven to bake as they went back out to help with the farm chores. Several variations of this recipe exist, including those from the Amish and the Shakers communities. It’s likely that all three of these groups have some responsibility for the continued popularity of this old pie in Indiana. One of its more well-known purveyors, Wick’s Pies, in Randolph County, has been in business for over 60 years and makes their sugar cream pie with a recipe dating back to the 19th century. It’s not uncommon for families, especially those near Randolph County, Indiana, to have their own family version. And in 2009, the Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie became the “official pie of Indiana.”

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Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie Recipe

Crust Ingredients:
For the crust, I halved this recipe from Epicurious.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp granulated sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1 stick of unsalted butter, plus 1 tbsp, chilled
1/4 cup (or more) ice water
3/4 tsp apple cider vinegar

Cream Pie Filling Ingredients:
Slight variation of the Hoosier Mama Pie Company’s Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie recipe.

3 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
Ground nutmeg, for sprinkling
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie Instructions:

Cut butter into 1/2-inch cubes and spread out on a plate. Cover with a dishtowel and allow to set in the freezer for about 10 minutes.

In the bowl of a food processor, add the flour, sugar, and salt. Set in the freezer as you get the remaining ingredients ready.

In a measuring cup, fill to just over a 1/4 cup, then add 3 ice cubes.

Remove the food processor bowl from the freezer and pulse a few times to combine the flour, sugar, and salt.

Add the butter all at once and quickly pulse until the mixture produces smaller than pea-sized pieces. Add the water and vinegar and pulse again about 5 times to combine. Grab a bit of the dough and squeeze together. If it holds its form, it’s done. If it is still dry, add 1 tbsp of ice water at a time, pulsing about 3 times in between, until the dough begins to form large clumps.

Pour the dough out onto a work surface, gathering into a ball any little pieces of dough that escape.

Form the dough into a ball and flatten into disk. Wrap the disk in plastic; refrigerate at least 1 hour, but preferably overnight. Before rolling out the dough for your pie, allow it to soften for about 5-10 minutes at room temperature.

Roll out the dough into a circle that’s large enough to allow the edges to fall over the edge of the pan. Crimp the edges of the dough, or decorate with a fork. Place the pie crust in the freezer for 30 minutes.

Blind bake your pie crust by first heating your oven to 400 degrees. Place the frozen shell on a baking sheet. Line the inside of the inside of the pie crust with parchment paper and fill to the top with uncooked beans or pie weights. Be sure they fill to the edges, to help the pie crust keep its shape. Bake for 10 minutes, rotate 180 degrees, and bake for 10 more minutes. Remove the pie shell from the oven, and remove the parchment paper and weights from the crust.

Prick the bottom of the crust all over with a fork. Bake for 2-3 more minutes until the crust’s interior is golden. Allow to cool to room temperature before filling.

Combine the granulated sugar, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk to break up any clumps and to combine ingredients. Gently stir in the heavy cream and vanilla with a wooden spoon or spatula. Do not whip the cream or the pie will not set.

Pour the filling into the baked, cooled pie shell, sprinkle with nutmeg, and bake for 20 minutes. Rotate the pie 180° and bake for about 20 more minutes, or until the edges look as though they are beginning to set and large bubbles cover the surface. (The pie will still be jiggly in the center when you remove it from the oven.)

Allow the pie to cool to room temperature, then put it in the refrigerator to chill for at least 4 hours and up to overnight, before serving. When ready, dust with confectioners’ sugar before slicing and serving.

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And that’s it, you’ll have a rich pie to satisfy the masses. Traditionally, only white sugar would have been used, so if that is all you have, you can certainly use it in place of brown sugar. Your pie will be a bit sweeter than it would if you use a mix. Brown sugar adds caramel color and flavor to the custard filling, which is really nice. Cinnamon and vanilla may have also been a little over-budget for Indiana farm wives a century ago, but both add some nice depth. And I really think the sprinkle of nutmeg on top is important. To me, that’s what makes it a real Hoosier Cream Pie. The sweetness of this pie makes it a perfect pair to a strong cup of coffee. And if you can resist eating it all, do yourself a favor and freeze a piece to eat (while frozen) the next day. You’ll thank me for that later. Sweet eating!

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Sara (Lenton) Cornelius of Cake Over Steak

By nature, I am an extremely shy person. Like, really shy. Which makes this whole internet thing even more mind-boggling to me. A while back, though, I decided that I wanted to start a new project here where I would seek out some cool people to talk about their family history and have them share a family recipe with me. (I’ll try to do this once a month, so stay tuned!) Luckily, one of the first women I reached out to was just an all-around lovely human, which makes things easy. I am pleased to present my first guest on the Hungry Genealogist, Sara (Lenton) Cornelius. A super-talented artist and creator of Cake Over Steak, this gal is doing some cool stuff.

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(Courtesy of Sara Cornelius)

Sara was kind enough to take a chance and agree to do an interview with me. I also did a little family history research for her in return. See Sara’s interview below, along with her family recipe, and check out the amazing family tree she created with the research I did!

Q.) Can you describe a bit more about yourself? Your day job, for example, is awesome. Can you tell me more about what you do and how you got involved with it?

I’m the graphic artist for a memorial company, so my main job is to create custom hand etchings on monuments and I also put together custom layouts for customers involving text and photos that we etch with our laser machine. The hand etchings are my favorite part; I do a lot of scenes (deer and cabins or beach scenes, etc.) and I use a dremel tool to scratch the polish off of black granite, revealing the natural gray granite color underneath. So I’m essentially creating an image in reverse, etching away the parts that are white instead of the black parts like you would with a pencil or pen drawing. It’s fulfilling for me on a creative level, but the actual etching process is kind of mindless for me, so I get to zone out and listen to podcasts. It’s the best of both worlds.

Q.) Let’s talk more about your blog. Where did the idea come from? Is this something you were doing before you actually set up a blog? Or is it something that you had the idea and said, “I’m going to put that out there?”

The idea for my blog came to me the summer after college. I was considering starting a food blog, but didn’t feel extremely confident in my ability to photograph the food or come up with original recipes, and then I had the idea to illustrate the food. Since I’m an artist it seemed like an obvious way to make the blog more “me.” I let the idea percolate in my head for about 2.5 years before I actually started it, and for most of that time I was still trying to come up with the name for it. Even though I was illustrating the food I still wanted the blog to have nice photos, which is part of what held me back for so long. My husband is a photographer, so I finally mustered up the courage to start it when he agreed to take the photos for me. Along the way I had also become more confident in my ability to create my own recipes. Now that my blog is a little over a year old I’m transitioning into being my own photographer (with guidance from my husband, of course), and I’m starting to love that part of the process as well.

Q.) I know that you have an Etsy page where you sell your artwork. What is your intention with the blog? Would you like to do a book someday?

My intention for the blog includes a whole list of things: I wanted a space for sharing my love of food while also giving myself an outlet to create personal artwork outside of my day job. I wanted to interact with the food blogging community, which I think encompasses one of the best groups of people on the internet. I was also excited to have a place to record my life, in a way. Eventually I’d love to make a living from my blog, whether that’s through advertising and sponsored posts, or freelance illustration work and selling prints through my Etsy and Society6 shops. But most importantly, I want to make sure I’m always having fun with it. I think that doing a cookbook would be an amazing project, but I don’t see that happening any time soon. I might create an “art book” of my illustrations and recipes from the blog someday, if that seems like something people would be interested in.

Q.) That’s great! I think an art book is an awesome idea! And, speaking of your art, that’s a good transition to your family. I know that you said there were artists in your family. Is it an accident that you became an artist too?

I suppose you could say it was an accident and that it wasn’t an accident. I didn’t have any close relatives that were professional artists to act as role models for me when I was a child, but I knew I wanted to go to art school by the time I was in tenth grade, and ever since elementary school I was always considered to be “artsy” by my peers and teachers. Looking at my family now, though, it comes as no surprise. My father is a writer but can also draw very well for someone who doesn’t do that on a regular basis. His father became a serious watercolorist in retirement, and his paintings are hanging all over my parents’ house. I recently discovered that the cousin of my paternal grandfather was a professional artist, dabbling in music, painting and puppetry. I learned to play piano on the piano that belonged to my great-grandfather, and my father sings and plays drums in a band in his free time. My uncle on my mother’s side has recently turned his photography hobby into his full-time job. Both of my grandfathers enjoyed playing with photography, so that has definitely been passed down. My eldest brother is also a professional photographer, and while my other brother does not create art professionally, he is a talented photographer and painter as well. (And now I’m married to a photographer.) My only cousin on my mother’s side is currently working on starting his career as a graphic designer. So as you can see, the creative arts run rampant within my family on both sides.

Q.) It sounds like it definitely runs in the family! What did you think when I first approached you about being a part of this little project of mine? I wonder especially about what you knew about genealogy at your day job.

When you first approached me about this I thought it was a unique request and I was really excited about it. In particular, I was excited to learn more about my family. I live in an area where families have grown here for generations and they have large, close-knit families. By comparison, my family is extremely small and half of it is in Georgia, sixteen hours away. There were no other Lentons and at times I felt like my small family of Lentons (and Ecklunds) were the only ones to exist in the country. We also didn’t know much about our heritage (which, it turns out is a real mumbo-jumbo of western Europe, more or less what we had expected), so learning more about that seemed like it might give me a better sense of my place in this world.

At my day job I don’t often interact with customers, but it can be interesting to learn how they feel about their relatives through what they choose to put on someone’s headstone. Sometimes people want to put an image on a headstone that represents their relative’s job, which can be as mundane as an old-fashioned adding machine or something like a policeman’s badge. Other times they focus on things that remind them of the person or something they knew the person loved, like their favorite flower or their favorite spot on the beach. That’s what I love about my job–even though I might think they’re putting something ridiculous on a gravestone, I know that it means a lot to someone else, which makes it important, no matter what. It gives my day-to-day job a lot of purpose and meaning.

Q.) Were you surprised by any of the things I found? I know that your parents were involved a little. Did you find it interesting and what would you like to know more about? What did you already know? What are you going to do with this information?

I was surprised that it was mostly the great-great-grandparents that came over from other countries, and that most of my great-grandparents were born in Pennsylvania. My parents were really enjoying the process of learning about this, too, and some of what you found helped to jog their memories about pieces they had forgotten. I wish I could know more about my relatives’ day-to-day lives: Where did they work? How did they spend their time? What were their relationships like with their kids? But I’m glad to finally have the information you found, and it’s something I can eventually pass onto my own children so they can know a little bit more about their family history.

Q.) I’m always interested to know if a person’s family history managed to make it to the family dinner table. Do you know if anyone in your family was a good cook? Have any recipes been passed down?

I wouldn’t say that cooking is a strong part of my family history. The family dinner has always been important within my family, but I’m not sure that anyone before me was necessarily passionate about cooking. It was more just something you did because you had to and that was how you put food on the table for your family. My grandparents weren’t really well enough to cook a whole lot when I was younger and they were around, but my mom often makes things that both of my grandmothers used to make all the time. When I asked my mom what she thought of as being a quintessential recipe in our family, she thought of her mom’s coleslaw recipe. As I mentioned, the family dinner has always been important, and both of my parents’ families had a tradition of eating a large dinner on Sundays. My mom’s mom would make a roast every Sunday and she would also make this coleslaw, shredding the cabbage by hand.

Sara was nice enough to share her family recipe with us and suggested I try it on some pulled pork sandwiches. If you would like to try Sara’s grandmother’s coleslaw, you can find the recipe below. I tried it and I was not disappointed.

Coleslaw

Grandma Ecklund’s Coleslaw

Ingredients

  • 1 small head of cabbage or 1/2 of a large one, shredded (approx. 8 cups)
  • 2 cups shredded carrot (from about 2 large carrots, or the matchstick variety)
  • 2 tsp sweet relish
  • 3 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp white vinegar
  • 5 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1/2 tsp coarse kosher salt

Directions

  • Combine the cabbage and carrots in a large bowl.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients and toss to combine. (You might want to start with 3 tbsp mayonnaise and work your way up as needed.)
  • Taste and adjust seasonings and mayonnaise amounts to suit your preferences.
  • Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator.

Thanks so much for agreeing to tell me about your work, your family, and your blog, Sara! And I’m so glad you were able to turn my research into a beautiful piece of art! (Don’t forget to check it out, guys!)