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!
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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.
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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.
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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.

Ingredients:
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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

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

Spread cranberries over the bottom of the pan and sprinkle with nuts.
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Add the ½ cup portion of sugar.
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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.
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Spoon batter over the cranberry mixture. Use an icing knife to spread it across the top.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Bake in a 350º oven for 45 minutes. Just made it — no batter dripped over the edge of the pan!
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While the cake is warm, use a 3-inch biscuit cutter to cut disks to plate individual servings.
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Place each warm disk in the center of a plate and top with freshly made whipped cream or ice cream.
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Wondering how cranberries are grown and harvested? I wrote a fun story about it here.
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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

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