Mrs. Walker’s Cranberry Nut Pie

Sometimes it happens this way: you’re perusing Facebook and see a picture of a pie that looks just like what you and your mom used to make for dessert on Thanksgiving morning!

You read a little further and realize the person who posted the pie photo is an old childhood neighbor, Erin McHugh, whom you haven’t seen in forty years. Erin calls her pie Cranberry Surprise. You call yours Mrs.Walker’s Cranberry Pie.

I messaged Erin, “Hey, it’s Judy Culotta from Bay View! Mom and I used to make a cranberry pie that looked just like yours. Is that Mrs. Walker’s recipe?” Erin sent me a link to her pie recipe. At first glance, the ingredients looked quite different, and then I realized Erin’s recipe, written for a 9-inch pie plate, was simply a doubled version of Mrs. Walker’s recipe written for a shallow 8-inch pie pan.

Mrs. Walker’s recipe called for a combination of oleo and shortening, while Erin’s recipe called for butter. Whenever you see old recipes that call for “oleo,” know it was a shortened name for “oleomargarine,” a solid form of vegetable oil (oleic acid). Originally, oleo was sold as a white-colored fat. Home cooks were instructed to mix in a yellow food coloring capsule to make it look like butter. Please write a comment if you remember doing that. Consumers had to mix in the dye because dairy lobbyists worked to keep margarine white and butter yellow. Yellow margarine finally became available in 1969.

Hearing from Erin and making this recipe again was delightful! It sent me down Memory Lane. I found these old photos of our home taken in 1964 before my grandfather renovated the house and turned it into a year-round dwelling. The cottage was known as “The Eye of Bay View” because an eye-shaped window faced the entrance to this small and magical Monteagle-like summer community.

The farmhouse was built in 1894 by Ida Tripp, mother of Hazel Atkinson. Hazel lived there with her daughters, Ruth and Hope. It turns out, Erin’s family and the Atkinsons were dear friends. Erin wrote a tender story about them and Surprise Pie in her recently published book, One Good Deed. Here is an excerpt.

Here are photos of the farmhouse from the early 1900s.

Before 1980, recipes calling for “a bag of cranberries” meant a 16-ounce bag, not the 12-ounce bags sold now. In 1980, there was a shortage of cranberries and the cranberry growers’ consortium changed to smaller-sized packaging to keep up with demand. They never went back to the 16-ounce bag. A 12-ounce bag has 3½ cups of berries.


Cranberry Filling:
12-ounce bag fresh cranberries (about 3½ cups),
½ cup chopped pecans or walnuts
½ cup granulated sugar

Cake Batter:
2 large eggs, beaten
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup butter, melted (1½ sticks)
1 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350º. Grease a 9-inch pie plate with butter.

Spread cranberries over the bottom of the pan and sprinkle with nuts.

Add the ½ cup portion of sugar.

Add eggs to the mixing bowl and beat well. Add the 1 cup portion of sugar, the vanilla, butter, and flour and beat for another 30 seconds. Use a spatula to scrape the sides and base of the bowl.

Spoon batter over the cranberry mixture. Use an icing knife to spread it across the top.

Bake for 45 minutes on the center oven rack. Test center of pie with a knife for doneness. If there is still batter on the knife, set the timer for five more minutes and check again. Continue in this way until knife comes out clean.

Use an “edge protector” if needed to keep the crust’s rim from burning.

Serve warm with freshly made whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Triple this recipe for a Crowd-Pleasing Dessert (24 people)

Filling: 9 cups fresh cranberries, 1½ cups chopped nuts, 1½ cups sugar. Spread cranberries and nuts over a greased half baking sheet (13″ by 18″ by 1″). Sprinkle with sugar.

Topping: Mix together 4½ sticks of melted butter, 3 cups sugar, 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, and 6 eggs. Add 3 cups of flour. Mix for 30 seconds until smooth. Use a stainless icing spatula to spread the batter over the cranberries, starting in the pan’s center and moving outward. Don’t bring the batter all the way to the edges. Don’t want the batter to spill over the side of the pan as it cooks.

Bake in a 350º oven for 45 minutes. Just made it — no batter dripped over the edge of the pan!

While the cake is warm, use a 3-inch biscuit cutter to cut disks to plate individual servings.

Place each warm disk in the center of a plate and top with freshly made whipped cream or ice cream.

Wondering how cranberries are grown and harvested? I wrote a fun story about it here.

Favorite Thanksgiving Desserts
Pumpkin Bread Pudding (with caramel sauce and whipped cream on top!)
Mom’s Pumpkin Pie
Mom’s Apple Pie with a Cheddar Streusel Topping
Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie
Marion’s Crazy Good Pumpkin Bread with Chocolate Chips

Thanksgiving Day Side Dishes We Love
Melissa’s Sweet Potato Casserole
Grandma’s Cranberry Chutney
Auntie Martha’s Spicy Spinach (aka Spinach Madeleine)
Roasted Butternut Squash, Brussels Sprouts, and Cranberries
Amazingly Delicious Sautéed Carrots


Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

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© 2014-2020 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

46 thoughts on “Mrs. Walker’s Cranberry Nut Pie

  1. All of my mother’s handwritten baking recipes (and she was known for her baking skills!!) call for “oleo” and of course I know what that means since we never had real butter on the table – just oleo – when I was growing up. I was in college before I realized that baking with oleo was a poor substitute for real butter but my mother never gave up baking with oleo! My daughters have not a clue what oleo means when they try one of my mother’s recipes so I have to translate for them. Never made our oleo yellow though – just bought it that way.

  2. My mother only really baked at Christmas, except for rolls or biscuits at dinner. But we certainly used oleo. How do you keep children from yammering at you in the kitchen? Put them to work breaking the color capsule in the oleo and distributing the color so that it’s nice and even and there aren’t any streaks.

  3. I remember the white oleo. It had a little capsule of yellow coloring and I got to break it and knead it into the oleo. It was all in a sturdy plastic bag. I was about five or six at the time. I thought it was great fun. Love your blog!

    1. Thank you, Donna. I just googled some images of people squeezing and mixing a bag of oleo — the photos are all of smiling women. So interesting. By the sound of it, seems like the mixing job was a perfect one for young children.

    2. Hi, Donna! Did you ever get another pair of owls to live in The Box?
      I remember the white oleo, too! It was during WWII, and I used to do it for my mom while she was making dinner – very likely she had me do it to keep my 4-year-old self occupied.

      1. Genia, I love all the stories readers have shared about squeezing oleo. I’m not sure why it resonates so much with me, but it does. I hope you enjoy this recipe! Judy

  4. I am SO happy to see the Cranberry Lovefest continuing 😉
    Yesterday I made my cake (again) but started mixing the batter before realizing the springform pan was in the dishwasher, which was running. So I made it in an old pyrex shallow tube-type pan. And I had only 1.5 cups of cranberries left. NOT enough! This cake is very different – not bad, but I am really spoiled. And now, seeing this brilliant recipe, I can hardly wait for tomorrow to break my rule about not shopping on the weekend because I need (NEED) cranberries. Thanks! 🙂

    1. Good to hear from you, Quinn. Sorry about the extra trip to the grocery store. I just bought a 2# bag of cranberries myself. I want to make your cake next! BTW, I loved your story about your goats. Thanks.

  5. My parents are both 84, and they talk about mixing the colorant into the margarine. I don’t know how old my dad was at the time, but it was his “job.” He said the dye was actually a disgusting orange color before you mixed it into the margarine.

    1. So this was a job given to children and men to keep them out of the hair of women while they cooked! Can’t believe I’ve never heard about this before. My mother grew up in a house with Italian immigrants who cooked everything with olive oil — perhaps that is why I never heard about mixing oleo with food coloring. I feel certain my mother would have shared that experience with me had she ever done it.

  6. Judy, Hope Atkinson passed away several weeks ago, and I had been in touch with her until the end (Ruth passed on a couple of years ago). Though I was not able to make it to her very special memorial – and evidently there were some Bay Viewers there from days gone by – I was asked to say a few words in absent is. Of course I sent the Cranberry Surprise Pie story.

    And by the way, I do believe LOTS of people still use Hazel’s Fudge Sauce recipe from the Bay View Cookbook. Our family does!

    1. I was wondering about them.Hope must have been up there in age. I’ll look for her obituary. Which of the sisters was the painter?
      When my mother died, I found her copy of the Bay View Cookbook. I’ll find the hot fudge recipe and give it a try.
      Also, are you in contact with Mrs. Walker? I’d like to send her a copy of the post. Thanks! Nice to be in touch.

  7. And this is the recipe as given to Anne Byrne printed in her book, What Can I Bring Cookbook, having received it from Ophelia Paine and another Nashville lady, Sallie Legrone. So funny. I know we see lots of things that sound so southern but your coastal Mass recipe made it here 30 years ago at least


    1. Greer, I love looking at the regional and historic roots of recipes. Until I moved to Nashville I never heard of chess pie or pimento cheese. They are now two of my faves. I have not a clue how to make either, but I’m almost positive I could find a good recipe for them in one of Anne Byrne’s cookbooks! Thanks for writing, Judy

  8. I am excited to try this recipe with the bag of cranberries in my fridge. Thanks for the family history- very interesting. I enjoyed spending time with you at the Homestead.

    1. Thanks for writing, Jane, and for signing up to be a follower of the blog. We, bloggers, like that!! Yes, the Homestead was great. I enjoyed spending time with you, as well. I met a lot of new people this year that made the meeting, even more, fun. And the soaks, ahh.

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