Income taxes are due, so my almost-divorced friend throws a poverty party; I am assigned to bring a dessert. I remember seeing something somewhere about pies of the Great Depression, and a little bit of googling leads me to Paula Haney’s Hoosier Mama Book of Pie. I check it out of the library, read the chapter titled Desperation Pies, and have all the ingredients ready to make a pie on Friday evening for her Saturday party.
Friday evening, a text arrives, from a phone number with a San Francisco area code: Hey sweetie it’s Dwayne. How is your day going so far?
I don’t have a sweetie named Dwayne, in San Francisco or elsewhere, so I keep my reply brief: Wrong person.
He doesn’t believe me: U just sent me your number.
Nope, I reply. I’m Seattle, you’re San Francisco.
He agrees he’s in San Francisco, but wants to be sure: Did u just talk to me on the Sugar Daddy website?
I didn’t even know there was such a thing. Now I want to know more. No, I text back. I could use a Sugar Daddy, but I’d need one in Seattle.
Because that’s where I live.
Are you hot?
That’s a hard question to answer, I think, so I don’t. I qualify for Mensa, I tell him.
I like a smart girl, he says: Send a pic.
First, explain why you are a Sugar Daddy, I say.
I’m looking for a Sugar Baby, he says. I ask why and he tells me about his last sugar baby, the one who ended things after four years, so now he needs a new sugar baby, a sweet sugar baby.
I will spoil u rotten and give u a weekly allowance.
The last time I got an allowance, I was twelve, but I assume we’re talking about more than the five dollars a week I got then. What do you do for a living? I ask.
I own a construction company. What do you do?
I’m a Vice President at a global investment bank.
Why do you need a Sugar Daddy? he asks.
I don’t, but it sounds like a pretty good gig, and banking is tough these days, I tell him.
We chat for a bit longer, but eventually it occurs to him that I am not the person he’s looking for, or perhaps he just loses interest, but either way he stops replying.
I may or may not be hot by his definition, but my oven is not hot by any definition, so given the late hour, I abandon my plan to bake a pie. I’ll do it in the morning. I still have plenty of time.
Saturday morning, I sit and relax with a cup of coffee, and drive The Child to her appointment, and then – finally – go pick up our new microwave. By this time, I discover that Saturday afternoon has somehow arrived, and I have a pie to make. I assemble the ingredients, and turn on the oven, and only then, on my final read-through of the recipe, do I notice that a Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie is supposed to be chilled for at least four hours before serving.
This is a bit of a wrench in my plan to deliver a pie to the party that is still warm from the oven, but I will not be deterred: Desperation Pie will be served. I have taken one shortcut already, using a purchased pie shell, which I pre-bake in the oven as I mix up the filling.
The pie itself is a simple affair, two kinds of sugar, a bit of flour for body, heavy cream, and vanilla. The recipe calls for a teaspoon of vanilla paste, but from what I’ve learned, vanilla paste is basically just the seeds from a vanilla bean, so I scraped out the seeds from two vanilla pods I already had, and used them. It worked out to about three-quarters of a teaspoon, but tasted just right.
The pie is not set when it comes out of the oven, but a little bit of internet research presented a plausible solution. I set the pie in an ice water bath to cool it rapidly, and hoped it would do the same for 1930’s recipe pie filling as it supposedly does for Jell-O molds – chill and set it quickly.
Within an hour, the pie was nicely chilled and set and on its way to a party.
The food at the party was abundant, and all of it perfectly themed – tater tot casseroles, bean dishes, and hot dogs aplenty. The pie was a standout in the crowd, though – a custard pie richly scented of vanilla and notes of caramel. One of the guests called it Crack Pie, and that’s not far off. It’s so rich, though, that I was content to savor just one small, perfectly set, slice.
A few days later, another text arrives, but this time, I know the sender well: I cannot get over how good that pie was!
- 1 single-crust pie shell of your choice
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup dark brown sugar
- 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
- Pinch of salt
- 2 cups heavy cream
- two vanilla beans
- Cut vanilla beans open lengthwise, and use the tip of a sharp knife to scrape the seeds out. You will have about ¾ tsp of vanilla bean seeds, put in a small bowl and set aside. (Save the bean pods for some other purpose, like vanilla sugar.)
- Pre-bake the pie shell according to the directions, and set aside to cool.
- Heat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Whisk the sugar, brown sugar, flour, and salt together in a medium bowl. Use your hands to break up any clumps, if needed.
- Gently whisk in the heavy cream; taking care not to beat too much, as whipping the cream will prevent the pie from setting. Stir in the vanilla seeds.
- Pour the filling into the prepared pie shell and bake for 20 minutes. Rotate the pie, and bake another 20-25 minutes.
- When the pie is ready, the top surface will be beautifully browned and bubbling vigorously; it will not look set.
- Set the pie on a wire rack to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least four hours before slicing.
If you are pressed for time, cool the pie for 15-20 minutes on a wire rack, then set it in a pan of icewater, as high as you can get without touching the rim, and place in the refrigerator to cool. This will reduce the time needed to cool the pie by about half. (Or, make the pie a day ahead, and save yourself some stress!)