To celebrate Shauna Ahern’s Pie Party, and because I wanted to make some yummy desserts for our Fourth of July barbecue, I decided to whip up two pie recipes this week. You all know I have interest in (obsession with?) historical cooking, so I thought it would be fun to use pie recipes from vintage cookbooks. The first pie I made comes from a cookbook called Recipes from Old Virginia. Published in 1958, the book contains hundreds of old fashioned gems of Southern cooking. The book was compiled by “The Virginia Federation of Home Demonstration Clubs.” According to the cover, it contains:
Recipes of two centuries collected from the kitchens of the Old Dominion, together with the latest recipes used by the foremost cooks. Tested and approved.
I love old cookbooks and cooking magazines; on weekends, I scour antique stores and flea markets, looking for books that pique my interest. I’ve gathered quite a collection… some of my volumes date back to the early 1900’s. I can’t tell you why I choose certain books over others. Sometimes I pick based on the title, or the subject matter. Other times it’s the feeling I get holding the book in my hand—the smell of the old pages, the smudge of frosting the previous owner left as they cooked. I have a particular fondness for old community cookbooks published by church groups, junior leagues, and civic groups. Reading through the old recipes and descriptions is a ton of fun. But the best part is recreating the recipes. Sometimes it turns into a disaster, but more often than not I end up with a delightful dish that is also a slice of history… like today’s recipe, Chocolate Icebox Pie.
Here is the original recipe as written. The directions of this recipe were a bit sparse, and there was no crust or whipped cream recipe included, so I had to clarify things a bit.
CHOCOLATE ICEBOX PIE
2/3 cup sugar
Dash of salt
5 tablespoons flour
1 ¾ squares unsweetened chocolate (melted)
1 large can evaporated milk (or ½ cup cream)
1 cup water
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
2 cups miniature marshmallows
¼ cup butter
1 unbaked 9-inch graham cracker crust
2 tablespoons chopped pecans
Sweetened whipped cream
Combine sugar, salt, and flour. Add the melted chocolate and ¼ cup of the milk. Add the remaining milk, water, and egg yolks. Cook over low heat until thickened. Remove from heat and add marshmallows and butter. Blend well. When cool, pour into graham cracker crust, garnish with sweetened whipped cream sprinkled with chopped nuts and grated chocolate if desired. –Mrs. Elwood Harris, Sussex County.
I chose the cream option because I had some heavy whipping cream in the fridge. Also, I used kosher marshmallows. I couldn’t find small kosher marshmallows, so I chopped a bag of Lieber’s large kosher marshmallows into quarters and that worked fine. If you’re not kosher, no need to worry about this… just use regular-size marshmallows (not the big s’more sized ones).
For the graham cracker crust, I chose a recipe from another cookbook published the same year, Good Housekeeping’s Party Pie Book (1958). It’s a baked crust, as opposed to the unbaked crust the Chocolate Icebox Pudding calls for. In my experience with custard pies, baked crumb crusts tend to hold up better and be less soggy than unbaked. Here’s the recipe I used:
Use 1 1/3 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 16 crackers), ¼ cup of butter or margarine, ¼ cup granulated sugar. Let butter or margarine soften. In 2-cup measuring cup, mix 1 1/3 cup crumbs, sugar (if any) and butter with fork until crumbly. Set aside 3 tablespo. With back of spoon, press rest to bottom and sides of 9” pie plate, forming small rim. Bake at 375 degrees F. 8 min. Cool; fill as desired; top with reserved crumbs.
I followed the recipe closely, but found it a bit dry, so I added another tablespoon of butter and this made it the right consistency. I used the entire amount for the crust (rather than sprinkling some on top), since my Emile Henry pie dish is likely deeper than a 1950’s pie plate. The crust baked up beautifully, and really complimented the Chocolate Icebox Pie. Delicious!
For the whipped cream, I used a simple mixture of heavy whipping cream and sugar. Simple and scrumptious. As Julia Child said, “If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.”
According to the cookbook, this recipe was contributed by Mrs. Elwood Harris of Sussex County, Virginia. What a neat pie! So tasty, and relatively simple to make. It was quickly devoured at our 4th of July barbecue. Next time, I might leave out the marshmallows—they were good, but not really necessary, and I think the texture of the chocolate layer would be richer and silkier without them. Otherwise, this recipe is a keeper. The Recipes from Old Virginia cookbook is 53 years old, so most of the contributors would be over 70 years old today. I wish I knew if Mrs. Harris was still with us so I could thank her for this awesome recipe.
- 1 1/3 cups graham cracker crumbs
- 5 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2/3 cup + 2 tbsp granulated sugar, divided
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 5 tbsp flour
- 1 3/4 squares unsweetened chocolate
- 1 can (12 oz.) evaporated milk or ½ cup heavy whipping cream
- 2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
- 2 cups small marshmallows
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- Semisweet chocolate for grating
- 2 tbsp chopped pecans
You will also need
- small and medium mixing bowls, 9 inch pie plate or dish, small saucepan, whisk, pie plate, electric mixer, spatula, grater
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a small mixing bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs, butter, and sugar. Stir to blend ingredients until all crumbs are evenly moistened by the butter.
- Pat the graham cracker mixture evenly into a pie plate or dish using the back of a spoon, covering the bottom and sides of the dish completely to form a crust.
- Bake the crust for 8 minutes in the oven till crust hardens. Cool before filling.
- Combine 2/3 cup of sugar, salt, and flour in a small saucepan. Melt chocolate squares (the easiest way is to melt it in a small dish in the microwave), then add the melted chocolate to the dry mixture along with the evaporated milk or cream. Whisk together to blend ingredients.
- Add 1 cup of water and beaten egg yolks, whisk again. Turn heat to medium low and continue to whisk for 10-15 minutes. The mixture will heat slowly and take on a thicker consistency and become a custard. Don’t leave the pan alone for very long or the custard will burn/congeal to the bottom of the pan. Continue whisking until the custard thickens and begins to stick to the whisk in small lumps. Remove from heat.
- Melt in the butter, then whisk in the marshmallows. Let mixture return to room temperature.
- Fill cooled graham cracker crust with the custard.
- Place pie uncovered in the refrigerator and chill for at least 6 hours till set (preferably overnight).
- At least 1 ½ hours before serving, combine 1 cup of heavy whipping cream and 2 tbsp sugar in a medium mixing bowl. Whip on medium high for a few minutes until the cream is light and fluffy.
- Spread the freshly whipped cream on top of the pie with a spatula. If you have more time and want a more elegant presentation, you can pipe the cream across the top of the pie with a star tip.
- Grate semisweet chocolate into 2-3 tbsp of chocolate shavings.
- Sprinkle the chocolate shavings onto the top of the pie, along with 2 tbsp chopped pecans. Chill for at least 1 hour more before serving.