After tea cakes, my grandmother’s buttermilk pie comes in as a close second as the dessert that tops my memory list. We ate Sunday dinner at her house often. A short trip after church, but we always hurried home to change out of our Sunday clothes first.

There were too many ways to ruin a Sunday dress and shoes on the farm. Wading in the creek in my Sunday dress was out of the question.

Of course, buttermilk, butter and fresh eggs were always plentiful, so a buttermilk pie, or rather pies, were as much a part of Sunday dinner as was fried chicken, biscuits and gravy.

Buttermilk pies evolved because our forefathers (and mothers) refused to waste anything, including the liquid left after churning butter. Combined with natural airborne bacteria, this liquid soured and thickened, taking on a tangy flavor, which was pleasing to some. Whether they liked to drink it or not, it made an excellent addition to biscuits, pancakes and other baked goods.

There are many recipes for a buttermilk pie. Not to be confused with egg custard, it is custard-like and both are traditional Southern recipes. But like all family recipes, different cooks added a little of this or that to suit the family’s taste.

Some pies have more sugar and buttermilk than others. Some recipes call for lemon zest or nutmeg. Others try to dress up the pie with nuts, coconut or chocolate. That’s not for me when I already have great recipes for pecan and chocolate pies.

What is special about this recipe, besides the memories, is that I have the recipe in my grandmother’s handwriting. The paper is yellowed and the folds are beginning to crack, but I cherish the fact that I still have her recipe that she wrote for me about 50 years ago. If you haven’t written down your family recipes, you must do so. Someday, when it’s too late, somebody will wish they had taken the time to ask you for your recipes. So, enjoy these recipes but begin to write down yours, too.

Grandmother’s

Buttermilk Pie

3 eggs

1 cup sugar

4 tablespoons flour

4 tablespoons melted butter

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 cups buttermilk

1 unbaked pie shell

Beat eggs lightly. Mix dry ingredients and add to beaten eggs. Add melted butter, lemon juice and buttermilk. Mix thoroughly, and pour into an unbaked pie shell. Cook 15 minutes at 450 degrees. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 25-30 minutes longer, until set. Let cool. Do not cut while hot.

Key Lime

Buttermilk Pie

1 cup sugar

3/4 cup sweetened coconut flakes

1/2 cup butter, melted

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon lime juice

1 tablespoon lime zest

1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell

1 beaten egg (for pie crust)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash inside of crust and edges with beaten egg. Combine all other ingredients and pour into the pie shell. Bake in lower part of the oven for about 15 minutes.

Reduce heat to 325 degrees and bake for about 40 minutes until set. Start checking pie after it has been in the oven for 40 minutes. The filling should be set, but the middle should be a little wiggly. Cover crust with aluminum foil if it’s browning too quickly. Allow to cool before serving.

1877 Buttermilk Pie

Beat together a heaping cup of sugar and four eggs. Add 1/2 cup butter, and beat thoroughly. Add 1 1/2 pints buttermilk. Line the pie tins with crust, slice an apple thinly and lay in each pie. Fill the crust with the mixture, and bake with no upper crust.

NOTE: This recipe appeared in “Buckeye Cookery” by Estelle Woods Wilcox in 1877. It was one long sentence and gave no temperature for baking because electric stoves and even electricity were not available. Most homes still used a wood stove.

Texas Buttermilk Pie

1 1/2 cups sugar

4 tablespoons flour

1/2 cups butter, melted and cooled

3 eggs, beaten

1 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla

dash of nutmeg (optional)

unbaked 9-inch pie shell

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix sugar and flour together until fine. Add cooled butter, beaten eggs, buttermilk, vanilla and nutmeg, if desired. Mix and pour into the pie shell. Bake 10 minutes at 425 degrees. Turn temperature down to 350 degrees and continue to bake until the pie sets, about 40 minutes. Cool on rack, and do not cut while hot.

— Judy O’Daniel’s “Country Gourmet” column appears each Wednesday in the Times-Journal. This column originally ran Dec. 10, 2008.

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