Sunday, March 14, 2010

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Ginger Pie, a Rescued Recipe

Harold and Maude—Colin Higgins’ black-humored 1971 film—once inspired me to bake a pie. If I’d known how much research eventually would be involved in making the simple dessert, I’d’ve said to hell with it. The perseverance paid off.

In the movie, Ruth Gordon’s seventy-nine year old Maude invites a much younger Harold (played by Bud Cort) into her rail car home. Maude—eccentric, art-loving, vivacious—stands in wild contrast to morose Harold whose faked suicides are sad jokes staged to wring some evidence of warmth from his frosty mother. In the rail car, Maude offers him oat straw tea and ginger pie. While prospects of oat straw tea did nothing for me, I was left dumb in the wake of increasingly irrelevant dialog at the mention of ginger pie.

Ginger pie? I’m no stranger to baking, but I’d never heard of it. At first, I mistook the pie for a physical thing. It had a homespun, old-timey ring that reminded me of something long forgotten. Dandelion wine, maybe, or spring tonic. At first dozens, then hundreds, then—literally—thousands of cookbooks stymied me as I hunted for a recipe. Gingerbread, ginger tea, ginger snaps, stir-fries, ginger syrups, ginger cordials, chutneys, beers, ales, candies, ginger-lacquered duck, and more, but no ginger pie.

Since nothing suggested or resembled what I was looking for, I put together working notes on a recipe of my own. Some of the ingredients were obvious, but I felt as if I were reinventing something that should be easy to find: Pie? No problem—got pans, got dough. Next! A great big mess of ginger. And eggs. And…um… sugar, of course. Plus…maybe…damn. There’s got to be a recipe in one of these books.

But I forged on. Southern chess pie had a sturdy, crack-topped custard that seemed a versatile base—But what kind of ginger? Fresh? Candied? Dried and ground? Preserved in syrup? In sherry? Just ginger juice? I try each of those. Fresh ginger turned out to have the strongest, most assertive flavor, giving racy overtones to an otherwise sweet and homey pie.

Fresh ginger holds promises of liveliness and sass, of exotic and ancient histories. There is a potency in a fat hand of fresh ginger that just might inspire a breath of fire when it's reduced to tiny, tiny cubes and strewn throughout a rum-laced custard.

The search for the recipe and subsequent experiments with what I thought ginger pie should be brought me a deeper understanding of what I was stalking. When I failed to uncover any recipes, I went back to Maude, the root of my inspiration.

Her eccentric, nuts-to-tradition take on life is a big part of the film’s appeal. During a memorial Mass, she psst, psst, pssts Harold’s attention with sibilantly inappropriate offers of licorice. Her wistful reminiscences hint at a past built on old world loves and tragedies. Once a firebrand activist, Maude continues in small ways undermining worldly complacency by finding joy in simple, everyday things; somersaults, a field of daisies, raucous songs, and seagulls, as well as frequent and spontaneous episodes of grand theft auto.

I came to realize that ginger pie was not some old-fashioned recipe fallen out of favor. It was more than that. By offering a slice, Maude extends not only hospitality, but a slyly camouflaged offer of herself and Harold’s first hints of escape from his doleful life. With the point of that pie, she wedges open Harold’s somber soul and floods it with bracing warmth and sweetness, the distillate of her own fading life’s fire and spice. Harold’s change is so profound that he picks up a banjo, abandons his mourning suits, turns cartwheels, and declares his intention to marry a woman old enough to be his grandmother.

This pie doesn’t affect those sorts of change; it’s not likely—not likely, mind you—to prompt proposals. Sitting here with a late-night wedge pilfered from the kitchen, though, I can’t help but smile. In the end, I don’t know what Maude’s recipe was, but I’ve cemented friendships over slices of this rich, ginger-and-rum custard pie. Surely that is the sort of thing she meant to dish up.

Ginger Pie

1 unbaked pie crust
¼-1/3 cup minced young ginger
2.5 oz aged rum*
1.5 cups sugar
8 Tbl unsalted butter, room temperature
¼ tsp salt
3 eggs
2.5 Tbl all purpose flour
¼ cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon zest

At least one hour before beginning, combine the ginger and rum in a small bowl or jar and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar. Add eggs one at the time and mix after each addition. Add remaining ingredients, including the rum and ginger, and combine thoroughly.

Pour the mixture into the unbaked pie crust and bake at 350F about 50 minutes, until the center has mostly set, but is still just a little wobbly – it will firm on standing. It should have a slightly darkened, crusty top. If necessary, cover the pan with a tented piece of aluminum foil or an overturned stainless steel bowl to prevent overbrowning while the pie bakes.

Warm, the pie cries for heavy dollops of whipped cream barely able to hold itself together. Cold, it’s best to sneak mall slivers while the rest of the house sleeps.

* Appleton Estate V/X or Clement VSOP are both grand rums for the pie. You want something with some age to it. In a pinch, you could use a white rum, but avoid spiced and dark ones: After all, this is a ginger pie, not a rum pie.

46 comments:

nerdling said...

I've had a hankering for custard pie lately. Darn, I guess I'll have to make this one.

Matthew Rowley said...

Nerdling ~ Aw, damn, indeed. I got your dessert hookup. Banana pudding with the caramel went ok, right? It helps to live near us since my MO is to make something, take some photos, eat a small portion, and give away the rest.

nerdling said...

My MO is similar, since I would weigh a thousand pounds if I ate everything I baked. We can trade!

Kentie said...

That pie does sound good, even if it was imaginary to begin with. : )

Erica said...

I think this looks and sounds amazing. And I love the backstory.

J said...

I had a ginger tart somewhere in the Caribbean in the 70s...don't remember which island... and I've long loved Nancy Silverton's Ginger Pastry for tarts, made with fresh ginger and molasses... but this looks good. Wish I could get some of the incredible ginger I had in Sri Lanka... its aroma was so flowery and its bite was the stuff of legends.

Tammy said...

See, here's the good in the internet. You've a gorgeous hand of ginger in the kitchen, curling its index finger at you suggestively, you want to do something...having just eaten the last of the ginger snaps, you have a hankering for something...different. Wham, on the table: ginger pie. No way my French neighbors have tasted that yet. Thank you Rowley. And I like your way with words.

Matthew Rowley said...

Kentie ~ I'm prone to flights of imagination. This one turned out to be useful...and tasty!

Erica ~ Thanks. You should try making it one day. I did a variation once using this same filling and a shortbread crust, the whole thing made into bar cookies. Not half bad. A bit like lemon bars.

J ~ you're making me hungry. I've yet to try Sri Lankan ginger. I will, though, look up Silverton's ginger pastry. It's a taste we like a lot around the house and the molasses pairing is a natural.

Tammy ~ I like your way with words, too. You put my photography to shame, too. Nice blog. Might have to check out those Biscuits au Gingembre. And we're lousy with blood oranges at the moment, so your post made me smile and realize I need to take greater advantage of our glut...

Tammy said...

Oy, what a life (a life of...Rowley?): is it possible to have a glut of blood oranges? We still have them here, but the organic ones are done. Take advantage--and since the delicious and novel pork marinade I stumbled upon contains blood orange and rum and is ridiculously easy, I'd say you have something to work with...Bon ap'!

Christy Augustine said...

this recipe looks amazing and i cant wait to try it! i must say i was on the same mission to find a ginger pie recipe after watching Harold&Maude (again).. Its one of my favorite movies and i really enjoyed your interpretation of the relationship between harold, maude and the pie! Thanks!

Matthew Rowley said...

Tammy ~ it's true; we're blessed with some pretty amazing produce in Southern California. If we ever move away, I'll miss the produce perhaps most of all. After the weather. And all our friends.

Christy ~ Glad you liked it. If you get around to making the pie, let me know your thoughts. It's the kind of thing we should teach other people how to make, I think.

Anonymous said...

Is two and a half Tablespoons of flour correct? Perhaps cups?

Matthew Rowley said...

Nope; it's correct as written.

The small amount (2.5 tablespoons) of flour acts as a thickener and gives some body to the custard. 2.5 cups, on the other hand, would put us into cake territory—though that might not be bad, that's not what I had in mind. If you take that route, let us know how it turns out.

Mike from Tacoma said...

A dear friend brought this to me at my Mom's funeral after I turned her onto "Harold and Maude"! One of the sweetest things anyone has ever done.... It was amazing! Thank You! I got this link when I asked for the recipee!

Matthew Rowley said...

Mike ~ Clearly you've got friends who care for you and I'm glad to help in some small and very remote way to help you feel better. Cheers to you!

Brent said...

Having just watched Harold and Maude for the first time in many years, I'm ecstatic to find someone invented a pie that sounds worthy of Ruth Gordon's performance.

I'll be trying it out this weekend!

Matthew Rowley said...

Brent ~ Naturally, you'll want to share it with someone. Oat straw tea is completely optional.

Anonymous said...

I watched that movie for the first time yesterday and was also struck by the same quest as you... for that infamous ginger pie recipe. I found a recipe for ginger pie, not sure if its what they ate, but here it is:

GINGER PIE

1 c. crushed ginger snap cookies
1/2 c. chopped walnuts
1/2 c. shredded coconut
4 egg whites
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. sugar

Combine ginger snaps, walnuts and coconut.
Beat egg whites, salt, and vanilla.

Add sugar and beat until stiff. Fold in crumb mixture.

Pour into buttered 9 inch pie plate. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Cool. Frost with whipped cream and shaved chocolate. Freeze. Take out at least 2 hours before serving.

Personally I think your recipe sounds better.

Alex

Matthew Rowley said...

Hey Alex ~ Thanks for turning up that recipe. In all honesty, though, I think mine sounds better, too. However, by including coconut in this version, you did install in me an early morning craving for coconut cream pie. Must resist temptation to make one...

smitty said...

I just finished watching Harold and Maude. I don't know how many times I've seen it but the ginger pie made me check google for a recipe. I can, and have, screwed up making cans of soup. I'll get my award winning baker (aka My Sister) to make me one. Thanks a lot for figuring this out!

Matthew Rowley said...

Hey Smitty ~ Odd how that mention in the movie make you itch to find a recipe, eh? Here's to sisters and their baking prowess!

Sean Mihal said...

A search for Ginger Pie led me to your blog. A co-worker mentioned making one and I immediately thought of "Harold & Maude". Your essay brought a tear to my eye and I'm writing this as I plan to go to the market to get the ingredients I'm missing. Unfortunately, since I've started reading your other posts I can't seem to tear myself away.

Working up my resolve, I will bookmark your site to revisit while the pie is baking. You have a new fan. Thank you for making my day!

Matthew Rowley said...

Sean ~ welcome! I'm glad you like the stories. If you get around to the baking, let me know. The ginger pie story is one that had been kicking around in my head for a while, but I'm a bit overwhelmed by the response both here and the private emails I've gotten.

I'm obsessing about pineapple upside down cake the past few days, but once that's out of my system, I may have to bake a ginger pie myself. Just the thing for this 80-degree weather we're having in December.

BEadECLECTIC said...

I came on today to look for ginger pie (because of Harold and Maude) and plum pudding (because of Anne of Green Gables). I'm going to make this for sure, and blog about it, too!

merri said...

This is just so great, thanks to netflix, Harold and Maude, google and ginger pie I find kindred spirits. Watching Harold and Maude for the first time in years it was great to find not only a recipie (appropriate typo) but the great story of a harold and maude type of quest. Thanks.

Diane said...

Ginger pie flashed thru my brain once again as it has since 1971, only this time I had google and I found your post and recipe. I'll be making the pie this week, and holding your observations about my favorite-ever movie in my heart as well. I was 14 when I saw Harold & Maude in the theatre and it had a profound effect on my life! And now I have a way to keep Maude's outlook even closer, thru my tastebuds and sense of smell! THANK YOU!

across the generations said...

...i'm watching harold and maude, looked up ginger pie on the computer - THANK YOU!!!!!!

Paula

Anonymous said...

I just watched Harold and Maude again after seeing it years ago, and immediately googled ginger pie ala Harold and Maude. Thank you for the recipe and for your thoughts on this marvelous movie, and now I'm off to make this pie.

Jessie said...

After watching Harold and Maude for the first time a few days ago, I knew I wanted to make a ginger pie. I'm so glad you posted this. We're not drinkers in my house, so I substituted the rum with almond extract and pineapple juice(found it on a website and it was stuff I already had). Not sure how the taste compares to your version, but it was AMAZING!We finished off the first one in two days and I'm making another one now. I might try the real rum version at some point, but for now, we're really liking this one. Thank you so much!

gen321 said...

I am sitting here watching Harold and Maude. Like you, I lost focus on the dialogue after she mentioned ginger pie. I had never heard of a "ginger pie", but I was intrigued by what such a pie would look like and taste like. I typed ginger pie into the search box and the first thing to pop up was your blog. Thank you for providing a recipe and pics. At the end of the day, I agree with your assesment. Ginger pie, whether it ever existed or is just the writer's invention, is symbolic of Maude welcoming Harold into her home and into her life; something simple and real, with a vibrant kick.

Anonymous said...

I went looking for a ginger pie recipe for just the same reason... I'm so glad you made this one. I made a gluten-free version with cornstarch instead of flour and a gluten-free crust from Whole Foods. Delicious!

FrankO said...

on my short list of favorite movies of all time -- in fact, i credit it with changing my life as a teen. it really changed me from a harold to a maude in my perspective of life. i've long wondered what her ginger pie recipe was, and, silly me, never CONSIDERED it of having a sly alternate meaning. (the old fox!)

cheers to you -- i'm definitely making this pie soon, and watching H&M again. as cat stevens says, "don't be shy..."

Matthew Rowley said...

Cheers, Frank ~ glad you stumbled across this little story. I suggest that you make this by posthaste and be sure to share it with loved ones.

Lucille said...

Thank you for giving this recipe!!!! Pie plus Liquor plus Spices is my modus operandi... I thoroughly enjoyed the process of making it, and I wondered what your preferred crust is. I used a shortbread. It was a bit heavy and salty in contrast to the filling and I might use crumbled shortbread for the same taste but lighter texture next time. Also, I think I will try a version of this recipe, but with pink peppercorn instead of ginger. Do you have any suggestions for the liquor?

Matthew Rowley said...

Hey Lucille ~ So glad you enjoyed it. I use a pretty standard pâte brisée as the crust, but all means, play with the recipe and make it your own. I could even see a graham cracker or gingersnap crust working for this.

Your pink peppercorn idea made me think immediately of using either cognac or a peach brandy. Peach brandy, an old American standard, can be hard to get your hands on these days, but Peach Street Distillers in Colorado make a barrel-aged version that's just stellar. Sniff around; some other distillers are resurrecting that old spirit.

Also, an errant thought entered my head and I'm having a hard time shaking it — I wonder how frozen duck fat would play out in a crust for a pink peppercorn pie. In that case, I'd forgo the peach and stick with cognac or some other aged grape brandy.

Let us know how it turns out!

Lucille said...

As soon as you said "duck" my thoughts swung to mincemeat. And then marmalade arrived upon the scene. (The peppercorns have not departed.)

Xan said...

This just made it onto the Christmas menu! Google for the win!

rhiannonfm said...

Any suggestions on modifying this recipe to gluten-free and substituting the rum for a non-alcoholic flavor?

Matthew Rowley said...

rhiannonfm ~

I have not attempted a gluten-free mod of the pie, but one of our anonymous readers above made a gluten-free version with cornstarch instead of flour and a gluten-free crust from Whole Foods. That seems like a fairly easy modification. As for a nonalcoholic flavor, I admit that I've never tried. Keep in mind that even extracts of lemon, almond, and vanilla are high-proof alcoholic liquids. It sounds like you are probably more familiar with that end of the market than am I: my feeling is that if you have found a flavoring that you enjoy, by all means use it.

Failing that, I might consider warming the minced ginger in the cream, covering it, and letting it cool before incorporating both into the recipe.

Good luck — and let us know what you come up with.

The Beaton Path said...

I dreamed of ginger pie last night and being a baker, started Googling with no luck until I found your blog. I swear it is exactly what I had pictured! Thanks for posting and you can guess what I plan on making tonight and watching.

Matthew Rowley said...

You have much better dreams than I, BP. I hope it's what you're looking for.

Gwen Edwards said...

I'm watching Harold and Maude right now and googled ginger pie after she mentioned it. Your recipe sounds divine, thanks for all the work you put into it.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I watched Harold and Maude for the second time yesterday after buying it a week or so ago. I am a Cat Steven's fan and only found out about this film by chance inspite of studying film in the past, must have missed this one. Anyway, I was thinking of the ginger pie and saw your recipe which I am going to try this weekend. I loved reading your blog on this and will report back about the pie. Loved the film, ahead of its time in many respects. I'm hoping the pie lives up to it. Maude would be proud of you!!

Kate g. said...

I made this for Christmas this year and I hope it keep it as a family tradition. So great, thank you!

Matthew Rowley said...

So glad you liked it, Kate! It may be time to crank out another here...

Jeanne C. said...

I made your Ginger Pie Recipe yesterday for my son who was turning 18 and instead of cake, wanted three days of pie. He's a huge fan of ginger and asked if one of his three pies could be a ginger pie. Not having a recipe for ginger pie, I explored Google and came upon your recipe. Well, it's delicious! Especially chilled because the flavors meld together and the ginger is more pronounced when the pie is cold. Thank you for all your trials and errors in creating a truly unique Ginger Pie Recipe for ginger lovers!