The story below is an excerpt from our Jan./Feb. 2016 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, view our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app!
And when the car gets to North Carolina, what wonders will be discovered? Well, not the least of them is Atlantic Beach Pie. C’mon along.
Molly Dugger Brennan
Every vacation my family took when I was a child ended up in North Carolina. I think my parents sent me to basketball camp at Brevard College because we were going to be in the area anyway. Even the year we pointed the car north towards Philadelphia to see the Liberty Bell, we somehow ended up at Tweetsie Railroad in Blowing Rock. It’s like our car only knew how to head south, which was fine by me.
I have so many fond memories of these vacations. I loved the scenery, the hotel swimming pools and the tourist spots, the kitschier the better. More than anything, I loved dining out. Going to restaurants was such a special treat. First, you were given the autonomy to order your own meal. It was all so grown up. Honestly, I felt like royalty. “You, sir. Bring me the grilled cheese sandwich, it amuses me.”
Another bonus to eating out was that my mother was not doing the cooking. I loved my mama, but she cooked everything to death. Chicken and pork had to be bone dry, vegetables had to be gray, beef had to be well done and then some. I think my mother’s high school home economics teacher spent an entire semester on food-borne pathogens. My mother made a superb country-cured ham and her lemon meringue pie was stellar, but they did not hit the table nearly enough to balance out all the other foods cooked to her rigorous safety standards.
Another vacation bonus was the possibility of seafood. I adore seafood. As you can imagine with Mom’s fear of food poisoning, seafood was never, ever served in our house. We had fried fish in the summer, but not real, from-the-ocean seafood. I ordered it whenever I was allowed. I still remember the first time I ate shrimp. What is this and why have you not told me about it before?
When I was little, there was a peculiar old wives’ tale that my mother thought was written in stone. It was said to be dangerous to eat dessert after you’d eaten seafood. At first, I suspected Daddy was just trying to curtail the restaurant bill, but I heard that rule from multiple people. You absolutely could not eat dessert after seafood because mixing the two would give you a terrible tummy ache. There was one exception to that rule, the only dessert that was safe to consume post-seafood. Luckily for me, this dessert was invented in our favorite vacation spot, North Carolina.
Known as Beach pie, North Carolina Beach pie, and more widely as Atlantic Beach pie, it was the one dessert you could have without risking gastrointestinal distress. Just so happens that it is made from ingredients easily found in the kitchen of any good seafood shack: citrus, butter, and saltines. It’s simple, it’s satisfying, and it’s yummy.
Now we all know that you can have your crabs and your cake, too. Still, this pie seems just the right punctuation to a great summer seafood supper. I made one recently and as God is my witness, I was going to take a photo for this column. Yeah well, y’all know me and pie. It was gone before I realized it. Trust me though, it was Bon Appetit magazine-levels of pretty. In appreciation for all the good times I’ve had in North Carolina, I give you my recipe for Beach Pie. I hope you enjoy it. Perhaps you’ll have the self-control to take a photo or two before diving in with a fork and a smile.
For the Crust:
- 1-1/2 sleeves of Saltine crackers (about 65 crackers, not the low-sodium ones)
- 1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
- 2 Tbs. sugar
(Alternately, you can just use a pre-made graham cracker pie crust. It’s still delicious but not quite as salty-sweet. I mean, of course it’s delicious. It’s pie.)
For the Filling:
- 1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
- 4 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice or a combination of the two
- (depending on the juiciness, that’s about
- 3 large lemons or 8 limes)
- Whipped cream
- Coarse sea salt or kosher salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, using a potato masher, or using your hands, crush the crackers to fine crumbs but not powder. The crumbs should look like coarse beach sand. Add sugar, then knead in butter until the crumbs hold together like dough.
Press cracker mixture evenly into a 9-inch pie pan. Refrigerate the crust for 15 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-18 minutes or until crust turns golden. While the crust cools, beat the egg yolks into the condensed milk. Add the citrus juice and beat until well combined. Pour filling into crust and bake for 15-18 minutes or until filling is set.
Refrigerate pie until cold. Must be completely chilled or it will not cut cleanly. Dollop with whipped cream and sprinkle with sea salt before serving. Enjoy.