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.

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.

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

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. 

The Zen of Slicing Pie

Cutting pie in the restaurant business involves more than a steady hand and a good eye. At Mrs.Rowe's Restaurant and Bakery, employees need to prove themselves before being trained to cut the pie. Here are some pie slicing tips from owner and general manager, Mike DiGrassie,  that you can use at home:

  • Don’t give in to the temptation to cut into a warm pie. It will taste good, but will be a mess.
  • Use a blunt-tip serrated knife.
  • Keep the knife hot. (The restaurant keeps their knife in a jar of hot water.)
  • Place the knife back in the jar of hot water after each cut.
  • If cutting a meringue pie, slice through the meringue first. Then go back, using your meringue cuts as guides, and slice through the filling and crust.
  • Make sure you slice through the crust, or the pie will tear when you try to scoop it out.
  • Cut the pie in half, turn it, cut it in half again, then cut each quarter once more for eight slices. For six slices, cut the pie in half, turn it; make your next cut at quarter-angle. (If you are looking down on the pie, the cuts now make an X). Then cut through the center of your two largest slices.

Happy National Banana Cream Pie Day

Here's a few recipes from MRS. ROWE'S LITTLE BOOK OF SOUTHERN PIE (Ten Speed Press, July, 2009) in celebration of National Banana Cream Pie Day. Enjoy! (At this point, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that you can pre-order the book at Amazon of Ten Speed.)

Susan’s Banana Cream Pie
 Here’s a recipe from Susan Simmons, a longtime baker at Mrs. Rowe’s Country Buffet who now works in the catering arm of the company. Pouring the hot custard over the bananas infuses an incredible banana flavor into the creamy custard, making for an ultimate pie experience. When you prepare the egg yolks for the custard, remember to save the whites for the meringue!

 Makes one 9-inch pie

 Vinegar Pie Crust prebaked (recipe is below if you want to try it, but you can get decent pastry in the frozen section of your grocery store)
3 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
3 cups milk
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 medium banana, sliced
1 recipe Mrs. Rowe’s Meringue (page 00)

 Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line a 9-inch pie plate with the rolled-out crust.

Mix the yolks, sugar, and cornstarch together. Using a double boiler, heat the milk until it boils. Whisk in the egg mixture and cook, stirring occasionally with the whisk, for about 4 minutes, until very thick. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and vanilla.

Slice the banana and arrange the slices in the crust. Pour the filling over the bananas and top with the meringue. Cover the pie with the meringue and seal the edges well.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until golden brown. The filling should wobble very slightly in the center when the pan is jiggled. Custards continue to cook when taken out of the oven, so don’t overdo it. Cool to room temperature on a wire rack, then chill in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 hours before slicing. Serve cold.

Weepless Meringue
 Less puffy and showy, but just as delicious as Mrs. Rowe’s Meringue, this family recipe is a tougher breed. The salt and cornstarch fuse and stabilize it, making it easier to manage and giving it a harder glaze once it’s baked, which mean less likelihood of weeping.

Makes enough to cover one 9-inch pie

1 tablespoon cornstarch
8 tablespoons sugar
1/4 to 1/2 cup hot water
3 egg whites, at room temperature
Pinch of salt

In a saucepan, stir together the cornstarch, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, and enough of the hot water to make a smooth paste. Bring to a simmer over low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened and clear. Set aside to cool.

Combine the egg whites and salt in a chilled bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form. Add the cooled cornstarch mixture, and then the remaining 6 tablespoons sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, and continue to beat until the whites form stiff peaks but aren’t dry. The meringue is now ready to pile lightly over a pie.

Vinegar Pie Crust
The vinegar in this crust is a flavorless stabilizer, making the dough more forgiving and patchable. In addition to being easy to work with, it also tastes great—even butter-loving pastry fans enjoy the flavor.

 Makes two 9-inch crusts

 2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon vegetable shortening
1 1/2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar
1 egg, lightly beaten
4 to 6 tablespoons ice water

 Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Cut in the shortening with a pastry blender until it is the size of small peas. Add the vinegar, egg, and just enough ice water to moisten the dry ingredients.

Form the dough into 2 equal balls, then flatten into disks. Roll out the crusts right away, or wrap the dough tightly and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each ball to a thickness of 1/8 inch.

To prebake an empty crust, preheat the oven to 400°F. Press 1 rolled-out crust into a 9- or 10-inch pie plate. Line with parchment paper and weight the crust down with dry beans or pie weights to keep the crust from bubbling or shrinking. Bake for 10 minutes, until firm and lightly browned. To parbake the crust, remove it from the oven after 10 to 20 minutes, when you first see a golden hue to the crust.

More Pie for Everyone

Why Pie? Why Now?

When my publisher asked if I could write the Mrs. Rowe’s Little Book of Southern Pies Cookbook, I jumped at the chance. It's a natural follow-up to the Mrs. Rowe Restaurant Cookbook: A Lifetime of Recipes from Shenandoah Valley because Mrs. Rowe was famous for her pie. We could not possibly include all the pie recipes in the first book.

The other reason I jumped at the chance is that I love pie. The mix of textures and flavors in any piece of pie—whether it’s fruit or cream-based, suits my personality. It delights me.

But even more than the actual bite of it in my mouth, I love the idea of pie. It conjures images of home and hearth to some, yet to others it conjures more base appetites—lust and passion enclosed in a perfect crust or perfectly crafted meringue. These two images don’t necessarily have to be at odds with one another—as those of us who are married with children can attest to. 

In fact, pie is many things to many people. It can mean whatever you want it to mean. It can also be as simple or elegant as you want to it be. You can bake a blackberry pie, for example, with more expensive but locally grown blackberries, or you can buy a can of berries or even frozen ones. You can stick with a simple pumpkin pie, made with Libby’s canned pumpkin—or you can go as far growing your own pumpkins for mashing.

As I researched this book, I talked to a lot of people about pie—cookbook authors, food writers, restaurant owners, neighbors, friends and family members.  It became clear to me that many people have strong feelings about it.  Unfortunately, one of the feelings that cropped up about it is crust-anxiety. That’s a topic for another discussion. Another thing that kept cropped up frequently was that most people judge pie by the way their own mother’s made it for them as a child. How’s that for a link between love and pie?

So, I say more pie for everyone.  It’s the perfect time for it—we all could use a little more love, a lot more fun, and a simple bit of joy baked in our own ovens.