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Omaha Magazine

Pastry, Fillings, Toppings: Sour Cream Raisin, Mincemeat, and Other Odd Pies

Feb 25, 2021 10:22AM ● By Tim Trudell
cartoon pie on colorful background

Illustration by Derek Joy

Joel Williamsen recalls the taste of his Grandma Pribnow’s apple pie. It’s a taste that he hasn’t found recreated in modern times, partly because of one now-rarely used ingredient. Lard made her pies much better, he said.

Williamsen said, “The addition of lard is something you don’t get in today’s pies.”

Several people observe March 14 (3/14) as National Pi Day—3.14 is the ratio of the circumference of any circle to the diameter of that circle. While math whizzes and internet browsers like to encourage people to eat pastry on Pi Day, there are actually two National Pie Days, Dec. 1 and Jan. 23. The latter has been recognized as the traditional National Pie Day. No one is quite sure about the origin of the Dec. 1 celebration, according to the National Day Calendar team. They continue to research its history. There are technically 1,500 national days recognizing some type of pie.

When many people think of pies, they think of apple or cherry. Among the younger crowd, it’s a good guess than many have never eaten a true mincemeat pie, and cannot fathom the idea of the state pie of Nebraska’s eastern neighbor—sour cream raisin, a dessert that has its own exhibition category at the Iowa State Fair. Other odd-sounding dessert pies include vinegar pie, a custard pie made with apple cider vinegar to mimic the tart taste of lemons or apples, and white potato pie. This is a pie made from white potatoes that was once popular in Maryland. 

Those last two are sometimes referred to as desperation pies, as they make use of cheap, sometimes unusual ingredients to provide a bit of sweetness during hard times. Also in that category are Southern classics such as buttermilk chess pie, which requires basic ingredients such as butter, sugar, eggs, flour, and buttermilk. During the Great Depression, some bakers made water pie, which has a filling made from water, flour, sugar, and butter.

Another thrifty option was Ritz Mock Apple Pie. Promoted by Nabisco, the recipe consists of crumbled Ritz crackers combined with lemon-sugar syrup, sprinkled with cinnamon topped with chunks of butter and covered in a pie crust. The end result reportedly tasted like apple pie.

Mincemeat, featuring fruit and meat, particularly ground beef, was once a staple dating back nearly 1,000 years. Mince pies were a way of preserving meat without salting it. People started enhancing their mince pies with spices such as cloves and nutmeg as these commodities made their way from the Middle East to Europe. Then, as fruit became more plentiful during the 17th century, cooks started mixing fruit into the ingredients to create what we know as mincemeat pies. 

Some grandparents have reflected warmly on shoofly pie. A common breakfast dish with the Pennsylvania Dutch in the late 1800s, shoofly pie resembled a crumb cake, featuring molasses. While some people may occasionally make it, shoofly pie seems to be more of a memory today.

While some pies of yesteryear fail to maintain a prominent role at the dessert table, strawberry-rhubarb, considered nostalgic in some circles, remains popular.

“[Mincemeat, shoofly, etc.] were our parents’ pies, and the names never really registered with the baby boomers,” said Dan Bosselman, longtime owner of Farmhouse Café and Bakery. “But, strawberry-rhubarb—I think it’s something that parents passed on. Like apple, peach, cherry. Those are the basics.”

Bosselman knows a thing or two about making pies, as he and his team of five bakers put in long hours to create some of the most popular pies in Omaha. The bakery produces up to 72 pies a week. Holiday orders skyrocket their production, with the bakery handling 1,400 pie orders for Thanksgiving, the main ones being standards such as apple, pumpkin, and pecan.

While caramel apple and strawberry-rhubarb are the favorites among Farmhouse customers, Bosselman has made his version of mincemeat pie.

“Mincemeat is one of my favorites,” he said. “A traditional mincemeat. If you tell people what’s in a traditional mincemeat, they look at you like you’re crazy. But, by the time you take the ground beef, and you add the apples, raisins, allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and then throw in a cup of bourbon or brandy, I’m sorry, but that’s a meal and a cocktail all at once.”

While Bosselman’s café ranks high with the fruit pie lovers, across town at Harold’s Koffee House, it’s the cream pies, including the aforementioned sour cream raisin, that score with customers.

Coconut cream pie is the most popular dessert at the restaurant, said Nancy Bohnenkamp, a co-owner with her son, Matt. Lemon meringue also resonates with diners, she said. Their top-selling fruit pie is Dutch apple, with its crumbly streusel topping. 

Regardless of the type, pie seems to be an American tradition, Bohnenkamp said.

“In a place like this, I think it’s the small-town feel,” she said. “People just seem to like a piece of homemade pie.” 

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This article first appeared in the 60 Plus section of the March/April 2021 issue of Omaha Magazine. Click here to subscribe to the print edition.

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