Betty Bryan’s Heavenly Coconut Cream Pie

My mother-in-law, Betty Bryan, is a fantastic cook and baker—and like a lot of good cooks, she doesn't really cook or bake by using recipes. So with that introduction, I'd like to tell you about her coconut cream pie and give you her exact recipe, but I can't. Let's just say it's as exact as I can make it for now, after talking with her briefly. But let me just tell you that whatever experimenting you manage with this pie, it will be worth it in the end. It's a much more soothing, less sweet,  and softer-on-the-palate version of coconut than say Mrs. Rowe's Coconut Cream–itself an iconic pie known to travelers across the country. Betty's pie is made with (non-instant) vanilla pudding and coconut flakes, which is a heavenly combination. 

This "recipe" makes 3 pies. (Regular size, not deep dish.)

Preheat oven to 400.

Prebake your pie crust. 

2 big packages of Jello vanilla pudding (follow the instruction, except for the eggs, which you will add)

5-8 Eggs for meringue (use Mrs. Rowe's weepless meringue, click here)

Take your egg yolks and stir them into the pudding as it cooks.

A hand full (seriously) or about a cup of coconut flakes also gets stirred into the pudding as it cooks.

You also want to save some coconut for sprinkling on top of the pie before it goes into the oven.

The pudding needs to cool to room temperature, then pour it into the prebaked pie crusts. Place your meringue on top, sprinkle the coconut. Bake it in the oven for about 15 minutes.

"You really need to watch it because ovens are so different and you don't want it to burn," Betty says. Truer words were never spoken.

Roots and Wings

Sitting in an overstuffed chair in a hotel room in Boston in 1995, I looked out the window at one of America’s oldest cities. With breakfast in front of me on the polished walnut table—a dense granola loaded with fresh berries thickly thrown in, along with a huge bran muffin, lathered with butter, and I smiled. Mom would approve. No fake butter for her, ever. (Photo by Liz West.)

I was years and miles away from our little mobile home on Fish Pot Road, yet with a lick of the butter dripping from my muffin I was transported. I saw the hills and valleys outside of our kitchen window, and the tiered curtains billowing in the cool Pennsylvania breeze. One moment I’m thinking of mom’s oven—opening like some forgotten gift and displaying poppy seed cake or pumpkin pie—the next minute the scent from long ago and faraway fades. But somehow the food of home is easily recalled, asif it’s seeped into my blood and pores and into my core.

I looked around at my luxury-filled room—overly plush, deep blue linens, art framed in gilded golden carvings—even stylish phones and clocks glistened. “This is no Howard Johnson’s Ma,” I
suddenly said out loud to the air, or maybe to the ever-present form that is my mother living in my head, the voice that warns me, comforts me, chides me. Howard Johnson’s was the place my mother worked for 15 years, scrubbing floors and toilets for the other half—the half that had the money to travel.

I celebrate in my writing and my life the cooks in the restaurant kitchens, the grandmother keeping her family tradition of handcrafted Polish sausage alive, the struggling organic farmer with dirt beneath his nails, the Cistercian nun making cheese in a secluded monastery. Sometimes it’s pretty, sometimes its not. Sometimes it only takes a moment of readjusting my eyes to see the beauty in the simple line of a calloused finger as it glides along hand crafted cheese or in the way a burly,
apron-donning man gracefully stirs huge vats of sausage gravy. My mother, the hotel maid, danced and sang in her kitchen, and created majestic pies, lasagna and haluski, even as hotel travelers did even see her as she quietly moved in and out of their rooms.

So back to Boston, my elegant hotel room, and thinking about the maids. I have no idea if their lives are as hard as ours were. Or as happy. I looked out of the window, offered a prayer of thanks to the universe, along with a prayer of hope, and left the maid a tip on the shiny walnut table.

Now, as I think back to that day in Boston, I see that my life is completely different than what I thought it was, even then—that my small success is a process of growing both backwards and forwards and sometimes in completely non-linear, unexpected ways. I remain firmly rooted in Pennsylvania in a little mobile home on Fish Pot Road, but it is here in Shenandoah Valley of Virginia that I make my home between the blue mountains and red earth, and yes, in my own kitchen, with my own food, my own words, with the kitchen queen always in the back of my mind.

Do we always have our mothers’ ways and words in our hearts and minds?

(Stay tuned next week for my mom’s poppy seed cake recipe!)

Happy National Blueberry Pie Day

Today is National Blueberry Pie Day! In honor of such an "esteemed" day, I'm posting the blueberry pie recipe in my book "Mrs. Rowe's Little Book of Southern Pie."  The
blueberry pie is the most expensive whole pie at Mrs. Rowe's Restaurant and Bakery, selling
$12.95 each. Most of the whole pies sell for under $10. The cost of
has gotten so high that the restaurant was forced to raise its prices.
You can
still get a slice of the deep-blue pie, though, for the regular price of 
$2.75 per slice.

Mrs. Rowe's Blueberry Pie

one 9-inch pie

Your favorite piecrust

3 pints of blueberries,
cleaned and stems removed (thawed
and drained if frozen)

tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

cup all-purpose flour (for thickening)

cup sugar

teaspoon ground cinnamon

tablespoons butter, unsalted, cut into small pieces

wash ingredients:

1 egg

tablespoon milk

the crust.

you have made the dough, on a lightly floured work surface, roll out
half of
the dough to 1/8-inch-thick circle, about 13 inches in diameter.
the dough over a 9-inch pie pan and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

you have purchased frozen prerolled circles, allow them to defrost and
one of the circles on and in the pie pan.

the egg and milk together to make an egg wash and set aside.

the blueberries, flour, cinnamon, lemon juice, and sugar and place in
chilled bottom crust of the pie pan.
the top with butter pieces.
out the remaining dough to the same size and thickness.
the rim of the crust with the egg wash, place the other piece of dough
on top,
trim to 1/2 inch over the edge of the pan, and crimp the edges with a
fork or
your fingers.

the pie to the refrigerator to chill until firm, about 30 minutes.
oven to 425°F.

the pie from the refrigerator.
the top with egg wash.
the pie on the top with two perpendicular cuts (so steam can escape
cooking). Bake for 20 minutes at 425°F.

the heat to 350°F and bake for 30 to 40 minutes more or until juices are
bubbling. Let cool before serving.

Happy National Pi Day

Another reason to celebrate pie? Or pi? This from the American Pie Council (yes, I'm a member, are you?): the date March 14 (or
3.14) gives cause to celebrate pie, or rather Pi (Π)
, yet again.
Used to denote the ratio of the
circumference of a circle to its diameter, Pi is the perfect symbol to
represent nice, big round pies of all
flavors. Given the width of a piping hot apple pie, one could use Pi,
3.14, to
figure out just how big the pie really is and how many friends it could
feed!  In honor of this infinitely useful number, the APC has
released a few of its own fascinating pie facts to chew on:


1 in 5
– Number
of Americans who have eaten an entire pie by themselves.


90 percent

Number of Americans who agree that a slice of pie represents one of the
pleasures in life.


– Number of
varieties of Apple Pie. 

6 million
Number of American men ages 35-54 who have eaten the last piece of
denied it.

1/3 – Number of
Americans who have eaten pie in bed.

27 percent
Number of Americans who believes chocolate pie is the most romantic pie
share with someone special.

113 million – Number
of Americans who have eaten pie for breakfast.


36 million
-Number of Americans who identify Apple Pie as their favorite.

7 percent
Number of Americans who have passed off a store-bought pie as homemade.

A Chef’s Sweet Memories

Here's a couple of wonderful stories from Chef William Poole, owner of WEN Chocolates ( in Denver, Colorado.

I guess the greatest inspiration I  had growing up were my grandparents; both being of Czech descent. As a child, I remember that they baked constantly; there was always something to eat, Grandpa's cinnamon rolls, kolache, but what I remember most were my Grandmother's pies-pumpkin, mincemeat, pecan and cherry. I am told that when I was very little, I wouldn't ask for a chair to be placed next to the counter…I demanded(!) one. I was always given a piece of dough to work with, and I would work it until it was gray, and still asked for it to be baked off into pie-dough cookies, or a small pie for myself. Those tastes and smells from my childhood help me today-I know when I've got the spices and aromatics correct in my baking when I am "transported" to that special kitchen. To quote Truman Capote, "if some wizard would like to make me a present, let him give me a bottle filled with the voices of that kitchen, the haaa and the fires whispering, a bottle brimming with its buttery sugar bakery smells." – from The Grass Harp

A few years ago, I worked aboard the American Orient Express as pastry chef. The train had pulled into Flagstaff, Arizona for the day, and I had contacted my mother, who lives in Phoenix, to have her meet me for the day, and I was to give her a five course dinner aboard the train with the passengers, before we took off for our final stop, Albuquerque, New Mexico. After four beautiful courses of 5 Star cuisine, and prior to her "real" desserts, I had the server present her with a dessert plate filled with coarse sugar-topped pie-dough cookies, very simply presented on a doily. The other passengers wanted to know where they could get some, because they were so good, they made her cry.

Thanks, Chef!

Think of Pie, Think of Me

I LOVE that people are sending me pie stories. Here's a wonderful touching story from Ben, who lives in the same area as I do. His daughter dances with my older daughter. And his wife Kelley is one cool mama and good friend.

"When my mom was little, my grandfather would bring home a pie every
single day from work, even though he worked as an accountant for g.e.,
my mom thought he worked in a bakery for the longest time. This could
have something to do with the fact that he told her he baked the pies,
but I always thought that was funny. Anyway, he passed away earlier
this year, and I helped out with carrying out some of the mundane but
difficult tasks of the business of funerals, one of which was to go out
to the cemetery to pay the fee for the burial. On the way out to
Fishersville, I was thinking about what I remembered about my very cool
grandfather, and his love of pies kept coming up, so after going by the
cemetery, I went to Mrs. Rowe's and got some pies for my family. it was
so nice to have the very real pies to go with the very real memories."

Thank you, Ben.

If you have a pie story to share, please send it to me at

What Makes a Pie Southern?

This is a question I am frequently asked. When I first started writing MRS. ROWE’S LITTLE BOOK OF SOUTHERN PIES, I wanted to know the same thing. After all, at the beginning of this project, I was no pie expert. I asked many people with more expertise than I have and their quotes are scattered throughout the book. My favorite quote came from Southern writer and foodie John T. Edge. I’m not giving that quote here. You have to buy the book to get that one.

The only thing that makes a pie Southern is the ingredients. Okay, so you can get most ingredients just about anywhere now—like key lime, peanuts, and blackberries. But Southerners embraced those then-local ingredients before you could get them anywhere else in the US and made their pies accordingly.

The South is made up of so many diverse culinary regions. In fact, Virginia itself has several culinary regions. The Shenandoah Valley, where I live, and the Mrs. Rowe’s Restaurant is located, is it’s own food culture, influenced by the South and by the Appalachians, but even more strongly influenced by the Pennsylvania Germans who settled the area. Shoofly pie is a great example of the regionalism of the pies in my book. You won’t generally find it further South, but it is a definite part of the pie culture here. It’s not a pie for the faint-hearted and some folks may even say it’s a developed taste. It’s a sweet pie with a strong molasses bite. Depending on how you make it, shoofly pie could almost be a cake.

The next thing you can generally say about Southern pies is they are sweeter than most other pies—usually calling for more sugar or brown sugar than most other regions. I don’t know why that is the case. But Southern pie bakers do seem to love their pie sweet.

Perhaps most interesting when mulling over the Southerness of pie, is the mythology of it. We hold images of the Southern Granny creating comforting pie and serving it up from her loving oven as a huge cultural icon. Even today, with all the hustle-bustle of modern family and work life. most of us seem to love to the simple comfort we find in our mother’s and grandmother’s kitchens—whether Southern or not.


Spreading the Pie Love

This past Sunday, I experienced the good fortune of meeting some fantastic pie-loving people in Charlottesville, which is just “over the mountain” from Waynesboro, where I live.  The event, named the “Cville Pie Down,” was started by an offhanded remark on Twitter. Someone asked who makes the best pie in Charlottesville. Two people answered the challenge—Brian Geiger, otherwise known as the Foodgeek  ( and Marijean Jaggers, otherwise know as the STL Working Mom ( One person took the bull by the horns and organized the event, allowing the pie bakers to concentrate on their art.  That would be Steve Whitaker ( Ultimately, Brian won, but I have to tell you that I didn’t envy the judges their task. All of the pies were superb.

But for me, the competition aspect was so secondary to what was really happening. First, the event was started on a social media platform and let’s just get this out there: HOW AMAZING IS THAT?  Second, here was a community of people gathering essentially to celebrate pie.  Pie draws people in every time. 

I was very honored that Steve asked me to participate. We weren’t sure what form that would take. I couldn’t judge because I am what they consider “professional” which makes me grin. In other words, they wanted everyday pie lovers to judge, not a pie cookbook author— to tell you the truth, that endeared the situation even more to me.

I suggested that I give away a copy of MRS. ROWE’S LITTLE BOOKS OF SOUTHERN PIES to the winner. After mulling it over, I thought both of them should have a copy.  After all, there were no grand prizes or anything like that. It was just a couple of people who love sharing their pie—and tons of other eager pie lovers watching and waiting for a bite or two. They are spreading pie love, just like me.