The Pie That Isn’t There

It’s not much to look at.

It’s a spiral bound church cookbook that the church of my childhood put out in the late 70’s as a fundraiser. It’s blue, with a drawing of the church on the front – the church as I remember it, before the fellowship hall was built, and the new sanctuary, and the new electric sign.

This cookbook – the Country Cookin’ Cookbook, the title proclaims, was the bible of the meals of my childhood. My mom was not a natural cook – she can do it, but derives no joy from it, and is as happy to warm something up as she is to make something from scratch. At times, she would get creative, leading to… unusual combinations. My Aunt Louise once said Mom was “slap-happy” in the kitchen, because she would slap anything together and call it supper.

So when this cookbook came out and you suddenly could make dumplings like Ms. VanHook, or a caramel cake like Mary Elizabeth, or a sad cake like Sister Betty’s, well, now you are onto something. And frankly, our suppers improved somewhat.

It has spots and stains, more on some pages than others, so you can track our preferences and dislikes, each spotted page a vote for the dishes on that page. It suffers from specificity of categories, having chapters for Pies, another for Cakes, another for cookies and Candies, and then yet another for Desserts, just in case some sweet managed to slip through uncatalogued otherwise.

But the recipe I have made most from this cookbook isn’t in there. It’s for Ms. Dunning’s Fudge Pie.

Don’t get me wrong – should you manage to somehow acquire a copy of the 1978 edition of the Emory Methodist Church’s Country Cookin’ Cookbook from Watson, Mississippi, you will find, right there on page 144, a recipe labeled Chocolate Fudge Pie, submitted by Jeanette Dunning. But that recipe will not work. It’s missing things. You try to make it like that and you will have pudding in a pie shell.

There were rumors in the church that Ms. Dunning left things out on purpose so as nobody could make a pie as good as hers. I don’t believe it – I’m willing to extend her some grace and just assume she just forgot to tell them everything.  Those Methodists are all about grace except when it comes to dessert.

Anyway, after this cookbook showed up, we started having chocolate fudge pies at every holiday gathering and potluck dinner. Wherever 3 or more were gathered, there was a fudge pie. Birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving? Fudge pies.

The recipe in my copy of the cookbook has been so altered, with additions and subtractions and alterations made over the ensuing 40 years in various inks that it’s not really fair to call it Ms. Dunning’s recipe anymore.

But because I want to help folks, and I shudder at the thought of one of y’all coming across a copy of this cookbook in the wild and trying to make a fudge pie that won’t turn out, I have decided to make things right and release the proper recipe into the wild.

Now, the original recipe is for two pies – that’s what it says, anyway. But remember, this recipe was released in 1978, and it was old then. It was made for 8-inch pie crusts, and they don’t make those any more. I recently tried to buy some 8-inch pie pans, and was gonna make crusts, and had a devil of a time trying to find any. It seems our pies have all super-sized now, with 9 or 9.5 inch pans being all there is. So, over the years, we have modified this somewhat to work with one 9-inch premade frozen pie crust.

What you’re going to need:

  • 1/2 stick butter, melted. I ain’t even going to lie – most often this was margarine growing up, but it’s butter now. When you know better, you do better.
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons of cocoa powder. I recommend sifting this. If you don’t have a flour sifter, you can put it in a sieve and tap it until all the cocoa comes out the bottom. Or hell, you can just dump it in and take your chances and probably be OK.
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup PET milk. Now, I’m afraid I better explain, as somebody out there is going to put kitten milk in this with who know what consequences. PET milk is what old people call evaporated milk, because PET was a brand name down here.
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla. Don’t cheap out here – use the real stuff.
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 9-inch unbaked pie crust. You can make it from scratch, or you can use one of those frozen ones from the store, or you can buy one of those that you roll out yourself from the cold box at the store by the whop-em biscuits. I won’t blame you, whatever you do, having done all of the above at various times. Do know that the frozen ones are often “deep dish” pie crusts, and this won’t fill one of those up, but will still make a tasty, albeit thin, pie, none-the-less.

What you do

If you got a frozen pie crust, set it out to thaw. It won’t take long – it will probably thaw during the 10 minutes it takes you to mix this up. Otherwise, put your crust in a 9-inch pie pan. Then, turn your oven on to 350.

In a mixing bowl, mix the sugar and the cocoa until they are well blended. Then add the melted butter, and stir it all until well mixed. Now, add everything else, and stir until well blended. You don’t need to buy a mixer for this – just a whisk or wooden spoon will do fine. It’s pretty forgiving – my sister-in-law once forgot the salt and added it after it was in the pan and it still worked out.

The mixture is thin – you will be pretty sure you screwed it up. Nope, it just looks thin. Now, put your pie pan on a cookie sheet, and then pour the mixture into the pie pan. The reason for putting it on the cookie sheet is because it’s easier to pick up a cookie sheet than it is a pie pan.

Slide the cookie sheet in the pre-heated oven on the bottom shelf, and set the timer for 35 minutes. It won’t be ready in 35 minutes, but it will be getting close. It will probably take closer to 45 or 50, but it has snuck up on me before and been burned as a result. You will know it’s done when it’s firm in the middle – at 35 minutes, the center will probably still jiggle when you shake the pan.

Another reason for checking on it around 35 or 40 minutes is to make sure the crust doesn’t burn. I take a sheet of tin foil, bigger than the pie, and crease it corner to corner, and then lay it on top of the pie around the 40-minute mark to keep the crust from burning. Creasing it keeps it off the top of the pie filling – you don’t want the foil to touch the surface of the pie or else it makes an unholy mess. It will still taste good, but you would dare bring it to the potluck for fear of the talk that would follow you.

Now, some warnings: The surface of this pie might crack. That is not a defect. I have had days when it took almost an hour of checking to get this pie done. I can’t explain why, as I do it exactly the same way every single time. Were I still a Methodist, I’m sure I would find a way to blame the vagaries of my oven on the Baptists, but as I’m not, I have no explanation for it. The ways of both the Lord and fudge pies are mysterious. Just check every five minutes or so after 35 minutes and see if the center is still jiggly. When it quits jiggling, it’s done. It will firm up a bit when it’s cool, but not enough to take a chance on a jiggly pie from the oven.

Growing up, we often put Cool Whip on this, but we all did things when we were young we are ashamed of later. Now, I like homemade whipped cream, or, on the third day after Thanksgiving, will often eat it straight from the pie pan, while leaning against the counter.

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