Sometimes it happens this way: you’re reading Facebook and you see a picture of a pie that looks just like what you and your mom used to make for dessert on Thanksgiving and Christmas days.
You look more closely, and you realize the person who posted the photo, Erin McHugh, grew up in the same small town as you. She calls her pie, Cranberry Surprise Pie. You call yours, Mrs. Walker’s Cranberry Nut Pie.
I hadn’t spoken to Erin in forty years before seeing her post on Facebook that day. That is the beauty of Facebook — reconnecting with people. Seeing her post, made me nostalgic for the coastal community of Bay View where we all grew up, and for the cranberry pie. I dug out my recipe and a bag of cranberries from the freezer and baked it. I have been making it every year since.
I messaged Erin, “Hey, Erin, it’s Judy from Bay View. Mom and I used to make a cranberry pie that looked just like yours. Is that Mrs. Walker’s recipe?” Since we all grew up in the same neighborhood, I knew we had to be talking about the same pie.
Erin quickly sent me a link to her version of the pie. At first glance, her recipe looked very different from mine. The amounts of the ingredients were way off. However, it soon became apparent that 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.
The other difference was Mrs. Walker’s recipe showed its age by calling for a combination of oleo and shortening where Erin’s recipe called for butter. Whenever you go through old recipes and see “oleo” in the ingredients, know that it is a shortened name for “oleomargarine” a solid form of vegetable oil (ole-ic acid). Originally, oleo was sold as a white spread and home cooks would mix in a capsule of yellow food coloring to make it look like butter. Please write a comment if you remember doing that. Consumers had to mix in the yellow color because dairy lobbyists insisted on keeping margarine white and butter yellow. Yellow margarine eventually won out in 1969. I’m guessing the switch from the common name of oleo to margarine occurred around the same time.
Since I’m traveling down Memory Lane, here are some old photos of our home in Bay View taken in 1964 before my grandfather renovated it and turned it into our year-round house. At the time, our cottage was known as “The Eye of Bay View” because the eye-shaped window on the second floor faced the entrance to this small, magical Monteagle-like summer community.
The house was built in 1894 by Ida Tripp, mother of Hazel Atkinson, who lived there with her husband and daughters, Ruth and Hope. Coincidently, and related to this story, Erin’s family was friends with the Atkinson family and Erin wrote a tender story about them and “Surprise Pie” in her book, One Good Deed. Here is the excerpt.
Here are photos of the house from the early 1900s.
A few words about ingredients:
Cranberries: Before 1980, a recipe that called for “a bag of cranberries” implied a 16-ounce bag, not the 12-ounce bags you see now. In 1980, there was a shortage of cranberries and the Ocean Spray cranberry growers consortium decided to change to the smaller-sized package to help keep up with demand. When cooking with cranberries, figure that a little over a cup of berries equals 4 ounces, thus, a 12-ounce bag has about 3½ cups of berries.
Measuring flour: Don’t forget to spoon flour into the measuring cup and then use a knife to level the top off.
12-ounce bag fresh cranberries (about 3½ cups),
½ cup chopped pecans or walnuts
½ cup granulated sugar
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 pie plate and sprinkle with nuts.
Add the ½ cup portion of sugar.
Add eggs to 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 and mix a few more seconds.
Spoon batter over cranberry mixture. Use an icing knife to help spread the batter over the top.
Bake for 45 minutes on the center rack of oven. Test center of pie with a knife. If there is still batter on the knife, set the timer for five more minutes and check for doneness again. Continue in this way until done.
I ended up having to use an “edge protector” after the pie had cooked for 35 minutes.
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 bakers half baking sheet (13″ by 18″ by 1″). Sprinkle with sugar.
Topping: 4½ sticks of melted butter, 3 cups sugar, 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, 6 eggs, and add 3 cups of flour last. Mix for 30 seconds until smooth. Use a stainless icing spatula to spread the batter over the cranberries starting in the center of the pan 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 cake is still warm, use a 3-inch biscuit cutter to make disks for serving.
Place each warm disk in the center of a plate and top with freshly made whipped cream or ice cream.
I wrote a story about how cranberries are harvested that you can find 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
LET’S STAY CONNECTED!
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© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.