Mae’s Sweet Coconut Pie

Coconut Pie 1

My wife Molly’s great-grandmother Mae is 98 years old. She’s one of the kindest women I’ve ever met, and I’ll never forget her sweet laugh and smile. It’s likely Mae is also one of the smallest and toughest women I’ve ever met. Well into her 90s, she mowed her own grass around her home and drove a golf cart through the woods to her church in the mountains of east-central Alabama!

It’s well known in the family that Mae has long championed eating what her body tells her it needs and wants. That mentality tells me her approach to food is deeply spiritual, which fits with the great faith by which she lives her life.

Mae wedding

Aunt Mae (left) traveled to North Carolina in January 2015, at the age of 95, to attend our wedding. (Photo by Ben Earp Photography)

We find great joy in being family with Aunt Mae, as we call her, and we take great pride in sharing this recipe for her Coconut Pie. Molly’s mother recently shared the recipe with us after a visit to see Mae in Alabama, and we tried the pie soon afterward. With each step, and then with each bite, I thought about how much of a blessing Mae’s 98 years have been for all who have known her. She continues to bless us with her example of faith and with her food, including this Coconut Pie. It’s light and sweet inside, with a strong exterior around the edges, just like Aunt Mae.

Coconut Pie 2

We know God made a special woman in Mae. Here’s how you can make her pie.

 

What You Need:

¼ cup butter

1 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 cup milk

¼ cup self-rising flour

1 can (3.5 ounces) coconut (About ½ cup)

What You Do:

1. Cream together the butter and sugar in an electric mixer.

2. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat well after both.

3. Add the milk, flour and coconut, and mix well.

4. Pour into a lightly greased pie pan.

5. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, or until set. In our oven, we needed only 40 minutes.

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

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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

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

Ingredients

Crust

2 cups crushed vanilla wafer cookies

6 tablespoons butter, melted

1/8 teaspoon salt

Filling

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

Topping

Whipped cream

While vanilla wafer cookies

Crushed vanilla wafers for sprinkling

 

Directions

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

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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

Ingredients

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

Directions

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.