Food & Drink

Local contests gone, but share a slice anyway

Snickerdoodle Custard Pie has all the charms of a snickerdoodle cookie in pie form.
Snickerdoodle Custard Pie has all the charms of a snickerdoodle cookie in pie form. Tribune News Service

I am lamenting the passing of the local celebrations of National Pie Day on Jan. 23.

For me, the fun of being involved in judging pies made by home bakers started back in 1999, when downtown Belleville decided to celebrate what was then called American Pie Day. Held in January, it revolved around activities at local businesses and included either booklets with recipes or an amateur baking contest.

One year, there were more than 40 pies in the contest. I learned over the years to take very small bites while judging.

Then The Pie Pantry began its own celebration with a contest usually held on a Saturday as close to Jan. 23 as possible. (The nationwide event is promoted by the National Pie Council.)

I and a variety of chefs and food experts would gather to judge delicious pies made by local home bakers for the Pie Day contest. You could also stuff yourself with a variety of pies from a buffet.

Alas, the restaurant is no more, closing last summer. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate Pie Day by making your own dessert. And sharing it. It’s as easy to make two pies as it is to make one, after all. Take the extra to the office. Surprise your favorite hair dresser, veterinarian, neighbor or teacher with a pie.

I dove back into the food archives and found some classic recipes worth reviving. Plus, I’ve included two new ones that are creamy and low-fat. Happy Pie Day!

Classic Blueberry Pie

In 2001, Rick Johnson, of Belleville, entered the National Pie Championships in Florida: He took third place with this pie in the amateur fruit/berry category. His pie was among 896 entries in the annual contest in Orlando.


3 cups flour

1 1/4 cup butter

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup lard

1/2 cup cream cheese

1/2 teaspoon almond extract


8 cups frozen blueberries

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

7 tablespoon Clearjel

Crust: Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process until ball forms. Chill overnight, then roll 2 crusts and place in pans. Flute edges, if desired, removing excess dough.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Filling: Combine blueberry and sugar in saucepan, and cook on low until juice is released and strain. Reduce the juice by half, add back the blueberries, then add the rest of the ingredients. Fill pie and apply top crust. Bake approximately 50 minutes.

Lemon Meringue Pie

Marianne Schaefer was the winner of the 2011 Pie Pantry's Pie contest. She became a perennial favorite among judges, though we never knew whose pies we were tasting. She just always did a bang-up job. Marianne, of Millstadt, made magnificent meringue and this pie had a rich lemon filling that when cut, came clean out of the pan with no weeping. Her meringue secret was using an egg-white stabilizer you can still buy at the Crystal & Spice Shop in downtown Belleville.

9-inch baked pie shell

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/3 cup cornstarch

2 cups water

3 eggs, separated

3 tablespoons butter

1/3 cup lemon juice

1 tablespoon grated lemon rind


1 tablespoon egg white stabilizer

1/4 cup cold water

3 egg whites

1 teaspoon lemon juice

6 tablespoons sugar

Mix sugar, cornstarch and rind in sauce pan. Slowly stir in water, place over moderate heat and stir constantly until mixture boils and thickens. Boil 1 minute. Slowly stir some of the mixture into slightly beaten egg yolks, then return to rest of hot mixture in sauce pan. Boil 1 minute longer, stirring constantly. Take from heat, blend in butter and lemon juice, stir until smooth. Cool.

Meringue: Place stabilizer in clean bowl. Add cold water and stir with hand whip to a smooth paste. Allow to set for 10 minutes to obtain the maximum absorption. Next, place egg whites in mixing bowl and whip until foam begins to form, then add the stabilizer paste and slowly add sugar and 1 teaspoon lemon juice. Continue whipping to a full bodied meringue. Top cooled pie with meringue, sealing to edge. Bake in preheated oven at 400 degrees, 8 to 10 minutes until delicately brown or to desired color. Cool at room temperature away from drafts.

Millionaire Pie

In 2002, I used this recipe in a story to promote a Pie Day event. It came from “Serving From The Heart,” a cookbook put out by Family Hospice of Belleville. It was submitted by Betty Meyer.

1 baked pie shell (or a graham cracker shell)

1 cup Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk

1/4 cup lemon juice

1 (3 ounces) package cream cheese, softened

1 (20 ounces) can crushed pineapple

Cool Whip, thawed


Mix milk, lemon juice and cream cheese. Fold in crushed pineapple and fill pie shell. Cover with Cool Whip. Sprinkle with nuts. Refrigerate.

Note: In other Millionaire Pie recipes, the Cool Whip has the nuts folded into it. Other versions fold the Cool Whip in with the rest of the ingredients, so there is no topping.

Aunt Mary’s Honey Pecan Pie

This recipe from the first Pie Day celebration in Belleville in 1999 is an old family recipe from Mary Fette, who at the time ran Aunt Mary’s Parlor downtown.

“This pie has a crunchy pecan top and a rich, sweet filling,” she said at the time. “I serve it at room temperature with vanilla ice cream. But some people like it with whipped cream.”

1/2 cup butter at room temperature

3/4 cup brown sugar, packed

4 eggs, beaten

2/3 cup light corn syrup

1/3 cup honey

1/2 tablespoon flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans

9-inch unbaked pie shell

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium size bowl, cream butter and brown sugar until smooth.

Add eggs and blend thoroughly.

Add remaining ingredients, one at a time, mixing well after each. Fill pie shell with filling mixture.

Bake 40-45 minutes. Do not overbake. Pie is done when filling in center of pie is set when pie is shaken gently. Cool pie on wire rack. Serve with ice cream.

Snickerdoodle Custard Pie

It has all the charm of a snickerdoodle cookie except that it is in the form of a creamy pie. Good-quality chocolate will elevate the pie to a whole new level. And only 149 calories!

1/2 of a 15-ounce package rolled refrigerated unbaked pie crust (1 crust)

1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, melted

4 eggs

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 cups fat-free half-and-half

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, melted

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Let crust stand according to package directions. Unroll crust; place in a 9-inch pie plate. Fold under extra crust even with edge of plate; flute edge. Prick bottom and sides of crust with a fork. Line crust with a double thickness of foil.

Bake 8 minutes; remove foil. Bake 4 to 6 minutes more, or until crust is lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Spread or brush 1 ounce melted chocolate over the bottom and sides of cooled crust. Let stand until chocolate is set.

For filling, in a bowl lightly beat eggs with a fork. Stir in sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg.

Gradually whisk in half-and-half until well combined. Carefully pour filling into crust (crust will be full). To prevent overbrowning, cover edge of pie with foil.

Bake 55 to 60 minutes, or until a 1-inch area around outside edge is puffed and set (center may be jiggly and appear undone). Remove foil. Cool completely on a wire rack. Cover and chill within 2 hours.

Before serving, stir together sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon and nutmeg. Sprinkle spice mixture over pie.

Cut pie into wedges. Drizzle with remaining melted chocolate.

Makes 12 servings 1 wedge each with 149 calories, 6 grams fat, 4 mg cholesterol, 21 grams carbohydrates, 191 mg sodium.

Adapted from “Calorie-Smart Meals” by Better Homes and Gardens

Icebox Key Lime Pie

8 whole low-fat graham crackers, broken into 1-inch pieces

1 tablespoon sugar

4 ounces neufchatel (1/3 less fat) cream cheese, softened, divided

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 1/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin

1 tablespoon grated lime zest, plus 3/4 cup juice (6 limes), divided

1 (14-ounce) can fat-free sweetened condensed milk

1/2 cup fat-free Greek yogurt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Blend graham cracker pieces and sugar to fine crumbs. Add 2 tablespoons cream cheese and butter to crumbs, and pulse to incorporate.

Sprinkle mixture into a 9-inch pie plate and press crumbs into even, compact layer on bottom and sides of the pie plate.

Bake crust until it begins to brown, 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer pie plate to wire rack and let cool completely, about 45 minutes.

Combine gelatin and 3 tablespoons lime juice in a bowl and let sit until gelatin softens, about 5 minutes. Microwave for about 30 seconds, until gelatin dissolves.

Process remaining cream cheese, condensed milk and yogurt until smooth, about 1 minute. Add gelatin mixture, remaining 9 tablespoons lime juice, lime zest and vanilla extract and process until thoroughly combined, about 1 minute.

Scrape mixture into cooled pie shell and smooth over. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 3 hours.

Serves 8, each with 310 calories, 9 grams fat, 30 mg cholesterol, 49 grams carbohydrates, 115 mg sodium.

“Light & Healthy 2012” by America’s Test Kitchen