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Buttermilk Pie

May 2021
Suggested by Carrie Freshour
UW Department of Geography

Wikipedia traces the origins of this pie to English settlers of the US South. Bon Appetit references the pie as a "desperation pie" — a dessert with whatever one had available to them, including things like buttermilk and vinegar. The recipe has a special place in my kitchen because of its origins and the ideas and tastes I associate with it.

Buttermilk pie in pan pan, ready to be served

"This photo is from when I made the pie in 2018," says Carrie Freshour, "I've made it several times since then but didn't take photos." Media credit: Carrie Freshour

I got the recipe from Nicole Taylor's cookbook*. Nicole writes about Black Southern Foodways and culinary traditions. That in and of itself would be special enough, but I met Taylor when I was a grad student doing dissertation work in my home state of Georgia. Taylor sat for an oral history with me to share memories and experiences growing up in what she calls "Black Athens," a place I came to know better because of her and many other long time Black residents who shared their family and community histories with me.

I grew up in rural Northwest Georgia, in a multi-racial family of 12 API/Latinx adopted kids to white Appalachian parents. I knew one — albeit unusual — kind of South. Through education, both in books and conversations with elders, immigrant rights organizers, and poultry plant workers, I began to re-evaluate my upbringing and food traditions. There are multiple "Souths" which may be expressed in the customary visions of white supremacy, "backwardness," and culinary debates over sugar-in-the-cornbread. But there is also the expanding immigrant South stretching northeast from Atlanta along Buford Hwy where one can find Pupusarias alongside of Korean BBQ joints and people struggling to make a life. There is the "Deep" South of the Mississippi Delta, where I was fortunate to learn from and with long time Black Mississippians who decided to stay put despite racial terror, who fed me on Sunday afternoons over hours of conversation and plates of greens and fried chicken. Finally, and thankfully, there is Nicole Taylor's South of Black grandmothers and aunties, doctors, and teachers, and this buttermilk pie.

* Nicole Taylor's cookbook is The Upsouth Cookbook: Chasing Dixie in a Brooklyn Kitchen. Nicole's instagram/twitter: @foodculturist.

  • 1 (9 inch) Butter Pie Crust
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tbsp fine cornmeal
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1/2 tbsp vanilla paste
  • Preheat oven to 375 F.
  • Place prepared butter pie crust in oven and parbake for 8-12 minutes. Remove and convert to cooling rack.
  • In a large mixing bowl, whisk together sugar, cornmeal, salt, cardamom, and nutmeg. Then add butter, yolks, sour cream, buttermilk, and vanilla paste.
  • Pour into slightly cool parbaked shell and bake for 45 minutes. The center should be slightly jiggly when ready.
  • Convert to wire rack and let cool. Let set in refrigerator. Serve chilled.

8 Servings

See "Treats from Faculty Bakers" for more recipes.