Lemon-Buttermilk Icebox Pie

Lemon Pie

Our family loves the sweet tartness of a good citrus pie, especially of the lemon or key lime variety. And perhaps no one enjoys such a pie more than Molly, our pie specialist. She recently found this recipe for a Lemon-Buttermilk Icebox Pie in Southern Living magazine, and we knew it was destined to be a hit, especially with her dad Stacy and my mom Chris.

Southern Living’s recipe actually worked in a sort of a la carte fashion, where you could pick your specific crumb crust, either use buttermilk or make your own, then fashion a sweetened whipped cream topping. Molly put together all of the pieces perfectly, so much that the pie was said to be better than Edwards brand’s frozen pie variety, which has been popular among Tessnear family members for many years. My grandpa, the late Lee Quinn, especially enjoyed cool, light desserts, and I believe this recipe would’ve been right up his alley. Here’s how you put this delight together in the A-plus order Molly selected.

The Crust

1 ½ cups crushed graham crackers

¼ cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons melted butter

Vegetable cooking spray

Directions: Crush your cracker crumbs, sugar and salt in a food processor until well combined. Add melted butter and process again until well combined. Press on bottom, up sides and onto lip of a lightly greased (with cooking spray) 9-inch pie plate. Freeze 30 minutes to 1 hour or while preparing fillings.

The Filling

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

1 tablespoon loosely packed lemon zest

½ cup fresh lemon juice

3 large egg yolks

¼ cup buttermilk (see note below if you don’t have any)

Directions: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Whisk (or use electric stand mixer as Molly did) milk, lemon zest and lemon juice. Beat egg yolks with a fork in a small cup for about 4-5 minutes. (If you have a hand mixer as well, the original recipe suggests beating the egg yolks at high speed 4-5 minutes or until yolks become pale and ribbons form on surface of mixture when beater is lifted. We don’t have two mixers, so Molly decided beating the eggs with a fork was good enough.) Gradually mix in sweetened condensed milk mixture and blend until thoroughly combined. Mix in buttermilk. (If you don’t have buttermilk, you can make it with regular milk or whipping cream. Add 1 tbsp. of lemon juice or vinegar per cup of milk or cream.) Pour mixture into prepared crust. Bake at 325 for 20 to 25 minutes or until set around edges. (Pie will be slightly jiggly.) Cool on a wire rack 1 hour. Cover pie with lightly greased (with cooking spray) plastic wrap and freeze 4 to 6 hours.

The Topping

1 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup powdered sugar

Directions: Beat cream and vanilla at medium-high speed until foamy. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating until soft peaks form. Makes about 2 ½ cups. Use as topping for slices of pie. You might also add a lemon wedge to garnish each piece.

Mama’s Sweet Potato Pie


Sweet potatoes possess a “superfood” reputation for the mega nutrients they contain and are widely considered one of the most healthy and versatile vegetables available for the human diet. (Sweet potatoes are also honored by a wonderful Winston-Salem, N.C. restaurant that takes their name.) I remember my Grandpa Lee Quinn always relished the opportunity to bake and eat a sweet potato with supper, correctly believing it to be a smart food choice. I have the same perspective, enjoying the sweetness of such a potato, as long as it’s not drowned in butter and brown sugar. Let’s reserve those ingredients for an occasional sweet potato pie!

I love both sweet potato and pumpkin pies, despite my opinion that they’re very similar in taste and appearance and my understanding that most of America prefers one over the other for the family Thanksgiving table. Am I the only one who thinks it’s easier to get away with making a sweet potato pie year round because pumpkin is so closely associated with fall, both for Halloween and Thanksgiving?

In our kitchen, if it’s a pie, any pie, then it’s acceptable any time!

This is our tried-and-true recipe for homemade Sweet Potato Pie. It’s called “Mama’s” because the ingredients are directly from my wife, Molly’s mother. And also because we added a twist borrowed by the famed Mama Dip’s restaurant in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (By the way, Chapel Hill is one of the South’s great foodie towns, if you’ve never been.) “Mama Dip” boils her sweet potatoes, instead of baking them, prior to mashing. We couldn’t tell a difference in taste when we boiled our potatoes, but we did find it to be an easier process overall.

Regardless of how you cook it up, sweet potato pie is truly worthy of the old Alabama song that sings, “Song, song of the South. Sweet Potato Pie and I shut my mouth.

Mama’s Sweet Potato Pie


1 pie crust

1 cup mashed sweet potatoes

1/3 cup melted butter

2 eggs, beaten

1/3 cup milk

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 pinch salt

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup sugar


1. Stir all filling ingredients in large bowl.

2. Poke holes in pie crust with fork.

3. Pour filling into crust.

4. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. (#FoodieScore Pro Tip: Sometimes we make mini pies, and the baking time for this recipe is about 15 minutes for such pies in our oven.)

5. You can sprinkle a pinch of nutmeg atop each sweet potato pie either before or after baking.

Banana Pudding Pie

Banana Pudding Pie

Before my wife Molly and I even started dating, we discovered we share a love for reading Carolina Country magazine, a monthly publication of North Carolina’s electric cooperatives. Since we married we’ve looked forward to receiving the latest magazine each month from our parents, who are members of a cooperative while we are not. We settle side by side into the couch and spend 30 minutes to an hour digesting the entire magazine.

Each magazine’s back page shares a set of recipes, many of which we’ve tried and saved in our personal collection. We recently read about this Banana Pudding Pie recipe in Carolina Country and knew we had to try it!

The buttery vanilla wafer crust, which we’ve tried on another pie or two, is a delicious take on the more common Graham cracker crust. The filling is rich and flavorful on top of the layer of bananas. And the whipped cream and crushed wafer topping sets this particular pie off right!

Banana pudding is a staple of American South desserts. When you take a pudding to a gathering, it can get quite messy as family members and friends dip into the dish and dig out servings. This pie is a nice way to control the mess and consolidate a serving into a slice. To take that a step further, we recently made this recipe and modified it to fit mini pies, one of which is pictured above.

As a #FoodieScore Pro Tip in that direction, just make the recipe with the quantities listed in the original, but use small pie tins instead of a full-size pie plate and divide your crust, filling and topping mixtures.

Any way you make it, this Banana Pudding Pie is delicious!


Banana Pudding Pie



2 cups crushed vanilla wafer cookies

6 tablespoons butter, melted

1/8 teaspoon salt


3 medium bananas, thinly sliced

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 3/4 cups milk

4 large egg yolks

4 tablespoons butter, cubed

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Whipped cream

While vanilla wafer cookies

Crushed vanilla wafers for sprinkling



1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, stir together crushed vanilla wafer cookies, butter and salt. Press mixture into pie plate or mini pie tins to cover bottom and up sides. Bake until light golden brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to let cool.

2. Place sliced bananas on top of cooled crust(s). Set aside.

3. In a medium saucepan, combine brown sugar, cornstarch and salt. Whisk in milk and egg yolks until combined. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in butter and vanilla.

4. Spoon filling mixture over bananas in crust(s). Let cool 10 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap directly on surface of filling and refrigerate until firm, about 2 to 3 hours.

5. Spread whipped cream atop filling and garnish with whole cookies around edges and crumbs on top.

Sweet & Salty Atlantic Beach Pie


Let’s just save the suspense on this one. This is the best lemon pie I’ve ever eaten.

Now that we’ve got that bite of bold honesty out of the way, let’s back it up with my qualifications for making the claim.

I’ve eaten a lot of lemon pie. My mom loves lemon pie. So did her dad. My wife Molly loves lemon pie, too. So does her dad. Infinite opportunities, by my count, have presented themselves to my mouth for lemon pie consumption.

We learned about Atlantic Beach Pie while visiting the fabulous small food city Chapel Hill, N.C. Locals tout the legendary and unique flavor of the Atlantic Beach Pie, made from a recipe always credited to Bill Smith, at local restaurant Crook’s Corner. (Why does he make it this way, and why is it called Atlantic Beach Pie? Here are your answers.)

No matter how much we tried, we couldn’t get the pie, and the opportunity to make our own at home, out of our heads. Then the recipe for Atlantic Beach Pie showed up in a copy of Carolina Country, a magazine we devour together each month it’s released by North Carolina’s energy cooperatives.

So we made it, just like Bill Smith does at Crook’s Corner. I don’t know if it stacks up to his or the pies served up in the restaurant, but the flavor and texture in ours were extraordinary. The filling was smooth, slightly tart and perfectly sweet. The crust was crackly, slightly salty and very buttery.

As if that wasn’t enough proof to support my argument that Atlantic Beach Pie is the best lemon pie, the popular Our State magazine included Atlantic Beach Pie in its February 2018 cover feature on The Legendary & Landmark Pies of North Carolina. And a slice of Bill Smith’s Crook’s Corner creation adorned the very cover of the edition.

Can you see by now that you must make this pie, no matter where you live but especially if you’re a North Carolinian? When you try it, let us know what you think! Is it the best lemon pie?

Here’s the recipe, with complete and praiseworthy credit to Bill Smith. (If you Google “Atlantic Beach Pie,” his name will be attached to most all of the search results anyways, and rightly so!)

Atlantic Beach Pie


1 ½ sleeves saltine crackers

1/3 to 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

3 tablespoons sugar

1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

4 egg yolks

1/2 cup lemon or lime juice, or a mix of the two

Fresh whipped cream and coarse sea salt for garnish


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Crush the crackers finely, but not to dust. You can use a food processor or your hands.

3. Add the sugar, then knead in the butter until the crumbs hold together like dough.

4. Press into an 8-inch pie pan.

5. Chill for 15 minutes, then bake for 18 minutes or until the crust colors a little.

6. While the crust is cooling (it doesn’t need to be cold), beat the egg yolks into the milk, then beat in the citrus juice. It is important to completely combine these ingredients.

7. Pour into the pie crust and bake for 16 minutes, until the filling has set.

8. The pie needs to be completely cold to be sliced.

9. Serve with fresh whipped cream and a sprinkling of sea salt.

Lus’s Authentic Mexican Choco-Flan


Google the words “choco-flan” and you will instantly find a dozen recipes for the famous Mexican dessert. Composed of two layers, one chocolate cake, one flan, the dessert is creamy, moist and absolutely perfect when it comes out of the oven. What you won’t find however is this story and this recipe.

One of my former students and I (I’m a high school English teacher) were talking about recipes one day and she was sharing some of her favorite Mexican desserts. Lus (her name means “light”) was born in America to parents originally from Mexico. She has learned to be an amazing cook from her family, as well as from Youtube videos. Now, let me backtrack a little. Last semester, Lus brought me a piece of choco-flan to try. The slice was the stuff of dreams – I had never tasted anything like it. I’m a flan and custard lover anyway, but the moist chocolate cake on the bottom and a little chocolate drizzle on top took the flan to the next level. I praised it so much that a few months later, she offered to share her personal recipe. So we sat down together at school one day (she was multitasking with some vocabulary homework) and watched a Youtube video for choco-flan. Lus translated (the video was in Spanish) and told me every step she does differently, so that I could write down her secret recipe.

No matter how many choco-flan recipes I’ve seen online, nobody’s is exactly like Lus’s. Even my first try wasn’t quite as delicious as hers, but it sure did come close. Here follows the choco-flan recipe of your dreams, as created by Lus, and written down by me. Enjoy!



Pans and extras

Bundt cake pan

13×9 glass pan

Tin foil

Nonstick cooking spray

1 ½ tablespoons of sugar


1 box of devil’s food or fudge cake mix

3 eggs

½ cup oil

1 can evaporated milk (14 oz.)


4 eggs

1 can sweetened condensed milk

1 can evaporated milk

1 tsp. vanilla

1 package cream cheese

1 pinch coffee


Prep the Pan

  1. Take a Bundt cake pan and spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Melt 1 ½ tablespoons of sugar in a saucepan on low/medium heat. Then pour into the Bundt pan and coat all sides of the pan with the sugar mixture.

Make the Cake

  1. Mix in a large bowl: the cake mix, eggs, oil and evaporated milk. (The evaporated milk is used in place of water.)
  2. Pour into the Bundt pan.

Make the Flan/Custard

  1. Use a stand mixer, hand mixer or blender to blend the custard ingredients. It may be helpful to soften the cream cheese at room temperature (or in a microwave for a few seconds). I started with the cream cheese and milks, then added the eggs, vanilla and coffee at the end.
  2. Pour the flan mixture on top of the cake mix carefully. Do not be alarmed if the cake mix rises up a bit – everything will even out when baking.


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 and place the Bundt pan in a 13×9 pan.
  2. Pour 1 inch or so of boiling water into the 13×9 pan around the Bundt pan. You may cover the Bundt pan with a little tin foil, but be sure to spray it with cooking spray and tent it so it doesn’t stick to the cake mix as it cooks.
  3. Bake for 50 minutes, then check every 10 minutes until cake is fully cooked and a toothpick comes out clean. This may take up to 1 ½ hours, depending on your oven. The cake part will be on the top.
  4. When the cake is done, let it sit on the counter until cool. Then, refrigerate for a few hours.
  5. Finally, it is time to invert the choco-flan. Use a butter knife to go between the outer edge of the cake and the pan to loosen it a little. Put a plate on top of the Bundt pan and while holding them together, flip the pan. Jiggle it until the cake has come out of the Bundt pan and is on the plate. Slice and eat plain, or drizzle with caramel sauce or chocolate syrup. Enjoy!