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 mornings.
You look more closely, and you realize the person who posted the photo 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 family 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 cooks mixed 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 themselves 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 at the same time.
Since I’m traveling down Memory Lane, here are some old photos of our house in Bay View taken in 1964 before my grandfather renovated it and turned it into our year-round home. 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 there is a story about Erin’s “Surprise Pie” that she shares in her book, One Good Deed. Here is the excerpt.
As another aside, the headquarters for Ocean Spray cranberries was located less than an hour from our house. At the time, there was a restaurant called The Ocean Spray Cranberry House in the town of Wareham. They served an amazing assortment of cranberry and cheese pastries that my mother often brought home for us. I remember when I was home for Christmas break during college and my mother, pregnant with my youngest brother Jeremy (true, dat), had a craving for those pastries and we all thought it hilarious that a road trip to Wareham to assuage Mom’s craving became the activity of the day.
Another tidbit: 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 changed to the smaller amount. When cooking, figure that a little over a cup of whole berries equals 4 ounces, thus, a 12-ounce bag has about 3½ cups of berries. My cranberry pie recipe calls for 2 cups of berries, but since I know that what remains in the bag will usually spoil in the fridge before I get around to using it, I simply go ahead and use the whole 12-ounce bag. The difference in amounts will give your pie a somewhat tarter taste with less of a cake layer on top, but not to worry, there is plenty of sugar in this recipe to sweeten the extra berries.
Measuring flour: don’t forget to spoon flour into a measuring cup and then use a knife to level the cup off. Never dip and scoop your measuring cup directly into the flour. Doing so, packs the flour and adds more flour volume to your baked goods. This can result in a dryer cake or bread.
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
Mise en Place:
Preheat oven to 350º
Grease a 9-inch pie plate with butter.
Spread cranberries over the bottom of the pie plate. Sprinkle with nuts.
Add the ½ cup portion of sugar. You can see I added the remainder of the bag of cranberries to the pie as an afterthought.
Add the eggs to a mixing bowl and beat well. Add the 1 cup portion of sugar to the eggs. Add vanilla, butter, and flour and beat for another 30 seconds. Use a spatula to scrape the sides and base of the mixing bowl and mix a few more seconds.
Spoon batter over cranberries, nuts, and sugar. Use an icing knife to help spread the batter over the top of the nut and berry mixture.
Bake for 45 minutes on the center rack of the 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 ice cream.
I love this pie and think it is gorgeous served at Christmastime. And, what a nice surprise it was to be re-acquainted with Erin over a pie photo!
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
© 2016 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. No photos or text may be used without written consent.