Buttermilk Pie

When strawberry season hits, I first think of strawberry shortcake, then Belgian waffles. But right after that, buttermilk pie comes to mind. Buttermilk pie with fresh strawberries. OH MY GOD!!!!

Most Southerners understand the glory of buttermilk pie, but others would choose any other dessert in the world before this classic dish. It’s really nothing more than a simple custard pie, with a touch of lemon and nutmeg to round out the flavor profile. It’s also very light and is very good with fresh berries or a berry coulis. I last wrote about buttermilk pie several years ago on eGullet, and I’m resurrecting the pictures from that time to show you how simple this dish is. Even if you don’t know how to make pie crust (and you MUST learn), you can always use a store-bought version.

I use Bill Neal’s recipe, which is lighter than a typical version because egg whites are beaten and folded into the custard. The tanginess of the buttermilk and lemon offsets some of the egginess and cuts through the richness, so this is really perfect. I also use really fresh, local buttermilk from Maple View Farm. This stuff is a bit richer than what you typically find in the grocery store.

When you take your first bite of this luscious custard treat, be sure you thank me. Yes, it’s that good. Photos and recipe are after the break.

Make your pie crust by rolling out your chilled dough on a floured surface and spreading the dough across the pie pan.

Trim off the excess crust to leave an inch or so hanging over the edge, fold under, pinch, and make a pretty fluted edge.

Fill the unbaked crust with rice or beans, cover the edge with foil, and bake for 10 minutes. Remove foil and rice and bake for another 5-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, beat up your egg whites until they form firm peaks.

Make the custard and then fold the egg whites into it. There will be lots of egg white specks mixed in with the custard.

Pour that mixture into the partially baked pie crust. It’ll look lumpy, just like this picture. Be sure to put your pie on a cookie sheet, particularly if it’s this full.

Bake that sucker for an hour until it looks as yummy as this one, nice and golden-brown on top. Let it cool before serving.

Buttermilk Pie

From Bill Neal’s Southern Cooking

  • 1/2 cup butter at room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • salt
  • 1 recipe for 8 oz. pie pastry, partially baked (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 325° F. Cream the butter and sugar well and add the egg yolks, one by one. Beat in flour and buttermilk and add the lemon juice and nutmeg with a pinch of salt. Whip the egg whites until stiff and fold into the filling. Pour the filling into the partially baked pie pastry and cook in the middle level of the pre-heated oven until the custard is set and slightly brown, about 1 hour. Serve topped with fresh fruit such as peaches, strawberries, or blueberries and slightly sweetened whipped cream. Fresh fruit sauces are also excellent with this.

Pie Pastry

for 8 ounces of dough – yields one 9-inch pie crust

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons cold shortening
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons cold water
  • flour for rolling out dough

Sift the flour, salt, and sugar together into a mixing bowl. Cut the butter and shortening into 1/2-inch squares. Add to the flour and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Remove from the refrigerator and incorporate the fat into the flour with the fingertips or a blending fork. Work quickly and lightly. All the flour should be cream colored (no longer white) and coarse as cornmeal, but the fat may remain in small pellets. Sprinkle the cold water over and bind, using a fork. Pat the dough together into a cake, wrap airtight in waxed paper or plastic, and refrigerate for 30 minutes before rolling out.

For a partially baked pastry shell:
After chilling, roll out dough thinly on a lightly floured surface, form into pan , and return to refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375° F. Remove pan from refrigerator and line the pie shell with aluminum foil, pressing gently against the edges so the crust will maintain its edge. Distribute 1 pound of dried beans or rice in the aluminum foil. Bake for 10 minutes on lowest level of oven, carefully remove the foil and beans, and bake 5 more minutes, or until the dough no longer seems raw, but has a light crust. It is now ready for the filling. (The beans or rice may be reused for future crusts by letting them cool and keeping them in a dry container with lid.)

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8 Responses to Buttermilk Pie

  1. Fuzzy says:

    I like lard instead of shortening, either your 1 to 1 ratio or my personal favorite of 3 to 1 ratio for the crust. I was taught to use an eyedropper to add the water – add water until it just does bind instead of relying on a preset amount, but I’ve also seen folks do it other ways.

    Other than that, and a slight variation in the custard recipe, this is the buttermilk pie I grew up eating.

    While I’m reminiscing about what I grew up eatin’, here are the pies I remember my grandmothers, my great aunts, or servant women would cook…

    Buttermilk Pie
    Brownsugar Pie / Chess Pie
    Boiled Custard Pie
    Chocolate Chess Pie
    Chocolate Meringue Pie (a whole ‘nother critter)
    Lemon Meringue Pie
    Lemon custard pie
    Coconut custard Pie
    Cherry Pie (from local cherries grown on the farm)
    Apple Pie (red June apples, and then hard golden/green w/brown spots Fall Apples later).
    Mince-meat pie (the real thing)
    Faux mince-meat pie (mostly comes from a can, vegetarian)
    Raisin Pie
    Peach pie
    Strawberry pie
    Strawberry/rhubarb (ugh) Pie

    and that’s not even the fried pies, like fried sweetpotato pie (kinda like a turnover, but a pie).

    I really need to go work on my notes on these pies…

  2. VaNC says:

    Buttermilk Pie is one of my favorite things in the world. Still warm buttermilk pie is even more ethereal than a hot Krispy Kreme. But, I am a purist. To me buttermilk pie is meant to be eaten alone…no whipped cream, no berries, no sauce, nothing to mask the flavor. A buttermilk pie is such a sublime simple perfect thing, anything added just takes away from that perfection, or rather fights with it.

    Just one man’s opinion, Frank.

  3. MB says:

    Buttermile pie is awesome if you don’t mistake the salt container for the sugar one. Lesson learned at Thanksgiving and now my family will not let me forget the mistake.

  4. Joe says:

    God that looks good.

    I keep thinking I should ask Phoebe if she’ll give me her sugar pie recipe — it sounds so good — but I’m not much of a pie-dough-roller.

  5. phoebe says:

    hey joe: you could always come by the South Estes market and pick one up….

  6. Brooks says:

    Glad to see that you are, slowly, leaving the dark side

  7. michelle says:

    i guess i have weekend plans now. i have more of a bottle of supremely excellent buttermilk left over from tuesday night’s biscuit making, and no firm plans for it. no more!

  8. Joe says:

    Phoebe: thanks, but not possible these days. 😦

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