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.

Foodie Travels: Allen & Son Barbeque, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Allen & Son barbeque

Allen & Son Barbeque serves one of the best Southern meals you’ll find anywhere. We won’t back down from that statement at any cost. In a state divided by preferences over barbecue styles, Allen & Son cooks up some of the best pig we’ve eaten anywhere. The sides are also fresh. The tea is sweet and plentiful. And you can’t beat the homemade desserts, especially the pies. Oh, my, how we love the pies. As our waitress told us, “if a pie looks perfect it’s not homemade.” Well, it may not have looked perfectly symmetrical on every side, but it sure tasted perfect!

Allen & Son Blueberry Pie

This legendary eatery on the north side of Chapel Hill, on the left if you’re headed from Interstate 40 toward Hillsborough, greets you with checkered tablecloths and a simple dining room. When we see checkered tablecloths, we know we’re usually in an old-fashioned joint that focuses most of all on its food and service. And that’s just what we got at Allen & Son. We’d heard great things, and the place downright delivered at every turn. That started with sweet tea that was so dark we knew it had been steeped a long time, just how we like it, with plenty of sweetness, and a jug for refills just for our table.

Allen & Son tea

Of course we sampled the pork barbeque, as Allen & Son spells it, and it was chopped up in nice big chunks, meaty, seasoned to a perfect vinegary flavor and containing wonderful little pieces of crispy brown skin throughout. Our plate came with coleslaw, delicious hushpuppies and a soft, yeast roll perfect for cradling a few bites of pork.

We also sampled a cheeseburger, and we were blown away by it, so much that we dare say the Allen & Son burger is one of the top five we’ve had anywhere in the South! And we eat a lot of cheeseburgers. The meat was plentiful and clearly hand-pattied, something we expect of an all-time great burger. The cheese was melty. The bun was soft and big enough for the sandwich. And the toppings of chili, mustard and onions blew our tastebud doors right off! Pretty darn near close to burger perfection, that Allen & Son cheeseburger.

Allen & Son Cheeseburger

After our main course, we knew we were going to enjoy some pie. We just didn’t know how much. We ordered one piece of chocolate and one piece of blueberry, both with a scoop of homemade ice cream. There’s no doubt the ice cream was homemade, as it contained the little icy shavings characteristic of home-churned ice cream. The berries were fresh and flavorful. And the chocolate was rich and decadent. We savored every bite until it was all gone.

Allen & Son Chocolate Pie

Our service was fast at Allen & Son, and our waitress was quick to make suggestions to better our meal and our experience. We’ll be back here every time we visit Chapel Hill or pass by on the way east or west on I-40. Chapel Hill is a food town, full of amazing places to get a great meal, but Allen & Son just might be our favorite foodie stop of all. Don’t dare miss it if you’re anywhere nearby! It’s the definition of a #FoodieScore.

Allen & Son BBQ

Allen & Son Barbeque, 6203 Millhouse Road, Chapel Hill, N.C.

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.

Five Southern Places We Love to Eat Pie

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Much like the Golden Girls found great comfort in sharing middle-of-the-night cheesecakes while discussing life, we find immense joy in the partaking of delicious homemade pies in unique shops during life’s travels across the South. We’re always on the lookout for places to procure pie when a need for sweet treats strikes. There are so many great restaurants in the South that serve pie, but shops with a wide selection are often difficult to find if you don’t know where to look! We’re here to help with these recommendations as some of our very favorites!

 

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Baked Pie Company, Asheville, North Carolina

It’s quite possible this pie shop with beautifully rustic décor in the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains introduced the world to the Pie Flight, a $13 treat with three generous slices of pie and a scoop of freshly made ice cream. Regardless, the place is now the standard for great pie in the region. We especially recommend the honey pecan, blueberry crumb, sweet potato, lemon chess and fudge brownie selections.

 

Possum Pie

Honey Pies, Little Rock, Arkansas

This cute little pie shop on the city’s west side is bright and cozy with a great selection of fruit, cream and other pies. In addition to full-size pies, we love that a complete menu of mini pies is available. It’s a nice alternative to ordering a single slice cut from a whole pie. We especially recommend the Arkansas-specialty Possum Pie, a layered masterpiece of chocolate, cream cheese and meringue in a Graham cracker crust.

 

House of PIes

House of Pies, Houston, Texas

You’ll be hard pressed to find a deeper-dish pecan pie than their Texas Pecan Pie. It’s yet more proof that everything really is “bigger and better in Texas.” House of Pies on Westheimer is like an oversized Waffle House-style diner, and the reason for the restaurant’s name is evident when you see the pie counter and rolling multi-shelf carts full of pies the minute you walk in the front door.

 

Miss Angel's

Miss Angel’s Heavenly Pies, Mount Airy, North Carolina

We’re not sure we’ve seen a larger, broader selection of unique pies anywhere, including the South, than Miss Angel’s, which draws you in with its bright pink décor and holds your attention with its long counter of sweet treats. You can even get pies baked with moonshine here at this friendly spot in the heart of the town that inspired TV’s Mayberry in the legendary “Andy Griffith Show.” Miss Angel’s also serves a wide variety of mini pies, which we’ve come to love as a single-serving alternative to slices.

 

Pie Society

Pie Society, Savannah, Georgia

In the heart of downtown Savannah, a city bursting with Southern history, this British pie shop offers a delightfully different selection of sweet and savory treats. Like French pastries, British pies aren’t quite as sugary rich as their American counterparts, and we appreciate that more subtle take on dessert. If you’re strolling Savannah’s picturesque streets in the hot and humid Southern summer, this is a great place to duck in and savor a bite…or two…or three.

 

What’s your favorite place in the South to eat pie? Comment on this post, share on our Facebook page, or email us here!

Homemade Pie Crust Tips and Tricks

Pie Crust

When you fancy flavorful homemade pies as much as we do at #FoodieScore, you spend a lot of time thinking about how to make your favorite recipes better in your own kitchen. And any great pie, no matter the rest of the ingredients, starts with a firm foundation—a great crust.

So, naturally, much of my musing about pie pertains to the pastry process and the question: How can I improve this essential building block on which the entire enterprise deliciously rests?

I’m still very much in the infancy phase of my pie-making life, but I have already learned a couple of must-succeed steps and a couple more optional tricks that help lead to a better crust. But as my mother and wife, two extraordinary and seasoned bakers, have told me, so much of the process and its positive result depends on a wide array of factors, such as climate, oven quality and specific ingredients.

Despite those wildcard variables, I believe you’ll find something useful and encouraging in the following lessons I’ve learned through my first batch of crusts. As with your pastry dough, please be gentle when working with these tips!

BE COLD: My favorite simple crust recipe so far uses unsalted butter, all-purpose flour, white sugar, salt and ice water. In short, you want these ingredients to be as cold as possible without being frozen, especially the butter and the ice water. The dough will form best and be far less sticky if they’re ice cold. I’ve even tested placing the mixed dough in the freezer for about five minutes before rolling it out flat to help keep it from sticking to my pin and paper.

PROCESS IT: Once you mix your dry ingredients, there are many ways to incorporate your butter. You can use your fingers or forks, or you can let a machine do the work. In several test runs, I’ve found that our food processor best turns the butter-flour mixture into the “gravel” consistency I’m looking for in this step of the process. Just a few solid pulses will do the trick. As you’ve probably read elsewhere, you don’t want to overwork your crust dough.

CONSERVE WATER: Your recipe likely calls for several tablespoons of water. Don’t pour all of that liquid into your mixture at one time. Add a couple tablespoons and start to work the dough. You’ll literally get a feel for how much more water you need. Once you’ve added too much, it becomes a pendulum game of add dry ingredients, add more liquid, and that becomes blatant guesswork. While there’s some guessing and intuition to forming your crust, as with baking and cooking in general, you don’t want to take a complete shot in the dark. Just drizzle a little water at a time, and remember that you might not need all of it.

Do you have tried-and-true tips for making pie crust? We’d love to hear all about your experiences! Comment below, share on our Facebook, Twitter or Instagram pages, or email us here. Thanks for reading, and enjoy that pie!