Cooking with Mom: Black Bottom Pie

Over the next few months, I am going into the kitchen with my mom and she is going to teach me the things I was too impatient to learn as a child. I will post the recipes here and in doing so will share moments I can remember but cannot always describe. There will be cream, there will be butter and every pot in the kitchen is going to get dirty. Find the first recipe here.

When I was in the first grade we lived in a little ranch house on a curved street. There was a big tree in the front yard with bark that scratched and a big garden in the backyard full of zucchini. My parents were still so young and our circumstances were happy and humble. My mom only made this pie on special occasions. It always sat on tables full of turkeys and hams and rolled cakes. When my mom made this pie, I didn’t know she was only 29 and trying to keep her head above diapers and homework. I didn’t know that the next paycheck and month’s rent was uncertain. I didn’t know that our house was small and our family was getting bigger. I only knew that the pie was beautiful and so was my mom and my goodness, we must be very well off indeed.

I made this pie on Sunday in my little kitchen. And for a moment, I forgot I am 28 and trying to keep my head above diapers and early mornings. I didn’t recall that this month’s budget was just a little short and my list of wish tos a little long. I felt the blessing of a cozy house and a family that keeps getting bigger. And as I mixed and chilled and let tiny hands help, I could not help but think…

My goodness, we must be very well off indeed.

These cookies or the like. 

Scharffen Berger, whenever possible.

I could eat it just like this. 

But then I am so happy I waited for the finished product. 

Black Bottom Pie (adapted from Fannie Flag’s Original Whistle Stop Café Cookbook)

1 ¾ cups crushed chocolate wafer cookies (best crushed using a food processor)

¼ cup butter or margarine, softened (although I used a half cup…because I like butter. don’t tell my mom.)

1 envelope unflavored gelatin

1 ¾ cups milk

¾ cup sugar

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon plus one teaspoon cornstarch

4 egg yolks

1 ½ ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ½ cups whipping cream

½ cup powdered sugar

3/4 cup chopped pecans (or more to taste)

Combine cookie crumbs and butter. Mix well until all the cookies are coated in buttery goodness. Mix well and press on the bottom up the side of a 9-inch pie plate. Chill for two to three hours.

Soften gelatin in a ¼ cup milk. Then combine sugar, salt and cornstarch in a medium sized saucepan. Slowly stir in remaining 1 ½ cups of milk until smooth. Now take those pretty little egg yolks and add them to the mixture in the sauce pan. Beat well. Cook over medium heat, stirring continuously until the mixture becomes thick. (Friendly hint: Do not let mixture come to a boil.) Remove from heat. Pat yourself on the back…You just made a custard from scratch.

Measure ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon of the mixture into a small bowl. Stir chocolate and vanilla into the custard mixture in the small bowl. Whisk until blended and slightly cooled. Use a rubber spatula to gently spread the chocolate mix into the bottom of the pie shell. Refrigerate.

Add softened gelatin to remaining mixture in saucepan, stir until gelatin dissolves. (Return to the heat very briefly if necessary.) Put the custard into a small bowl and chill until it begins to thicken.

Phew. Almost done.

Beat the whipping cream and powdered sugar until very stiff peaks form. Fold one-third of the whipped cream into the now chilled custard mixture. Fold it, fold it good. Spread that pillowy custard, whipped cream custard heaven over the firm chocolate mixture in the pie shell.  Spread the remaining whipped cream over the top of the custard in the pie shell. Sprinkle with pecans.

Refrigerate for three to five hours. (Or if you are me and simply cannot wait, pop it into the freezer for 2 ½ hours.)  My mom says (and she is always right) that it is very best when refrigerated over night. I have never been able to wait that long, so we will just have to take her word for it.