When Emily Leatha Everson Gleichenhaus was growing up in Indiana, warm, soft sugar cream pie was a staple on her breakfast table.
“We would eat them as dessert and also for breakfast,” she says, remembering the pies that came from the Wick’s Pies in Winchester. “Sugar cream pie is totally part of my memories of home.”
The official state pie of Indiana, the cream-and-butter confection also known as Hoosier Pie is only part of Indiana’s pie culture.
Blueberry, cherry, chess, strawberry-rhubarb, lemon meringue–Gleichenhaus says they were all on the table. A couple times a month, the family would venture to pie restaurants like the Dutch Oven, an Indianapolis fixture that is no more.
But the family favorites were the pies that came from her grandmother, who learned from her own mother. “My great-grandmother Leatha’s pie making skills were legendary,” Gleichenhaus says, noting that she always used Crisco for the crust. Her grandmother, Ethel May Selka, was known for her pecan pie, which became part of every family holiday. Selka recently turned 96, and though a stroke has confined her to a nursing home, it hasn’t dampened her love of pie.
Gleichenhaus’s dad and sister visit Selka a couple of times a week and always bring her a cup of coffee and a slice of pie, often pecan.
“She likes to indicate that it’s not as good as hers,” Gleichenhaus says. But she still eats every crumb.
–Text by Michele Kayal
— AFR video by Carol Hallowell
Ethel May Selka was born in 1917 and has lived in Indianapolis all her life. Her pecan pie is a fixture on her family's table. We have simply transcribed her recipe, which comes courtesy of her granddaughter, Emily Leatha Everson Gleichenhaus.
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup light corn syrup
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/3 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup melted butter or margerine
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 9-inch unbaked pie shell
- 1 cup whole pecans
Mix eggs, syrup, brown sugar, salt, butter and vanilla. Toss in pecans. Pour mixture into pie shell.
Bake at 350 degrees, 45 to 50 minutes.
Top with whipped cream.
This jiggly dessert is the state pie of Indiana. Made from ingredients that any farm kitchen would have on hand, its origins are unclear. It may have come to the state from a short-lived 19th century Shaker settlement. Perhaps it migrated from Amish country or arrived with Quakers from North Carolina. But it also resembles European desserts such as blancmange, and may have come with French and Belgian trappers who settled some of the state's oldest towns in the 1600s.
Wherever it came from, it poses a moral dilemma for anyone who knows you should not eat an entire pie in one sitting. This recipe is adapted from one used by Nick’s Kitchen in Huntington, Ind.
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup white sugar + 3 tablespoons, divided
- ½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- 3 tablespoons sugar
Preheat the oven to 360 degrees.
In a mixing bowl, combine the brown sugar, ½ cup of the white sugar and the flour with your fingers. Whisk in the cream and vanilla. Pour into an unbaked 9-inch pie shell. In a small bowl, mix together the cinnamon and remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar. Sprinkle the mixture over top of the pie. Bake for at least one hour, or until it is bubbly on top and still a bit jiggly in the center. Cool on a rack before cutting.