Food Nation

The United States of Desserts: Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie

In this series, we examine the history and origins of famous sweets, confections and desserts associated with American states.

Sugar. Cream. Pie. What's not to like about a dessert that combines all three elements?

Residents of Indiana, aka "Hoosiers," have a particular penchant for this amalgamate confection that dates back to the nineteenth century. Quakers from North Carolina who settled in the state made desserts that hearkened back to their European roots such as treacle tarts and cream pies. The sugar cream pie was in a way an American derivative of these British confections and gained popularity among settlers due to its straightforward preparation and simple ingredients. A butter crust shell is filled with a mixture of flour, cream, sugar, and vanilla, then baked until a slightly brown glaze forms on the surface.

It should be noted, however, that sugar cream pie did not emerge solely out of Indiana and became a staple dessert among other religious communities in the United States. Culinary historian Joanne Stuttgen explains:

I suspect there is no single origin of sugar cream pie. It is a simple and basic pie "desperation pie" that could be made with ingredients that would have nearly always been on hand on any farm, just like buttermilk pie, vinegar pie, and mock apple pie using green tomatoes. It's possible that it may have originated with Indiana pioneers, or with the Amish, who make a similar type of egg less baked cream pie. The Hoosier Cookbook (1976), by Elaine Lumbra and Jacqueline Lacy, includes but one recipe for sugar cream pie. The note says it is a 160-year-old recipe; it was contributed by Mrs. Kenneth D. Hahn of Miami County. This would take the recipe back to 1816, the year of Indiana statehood. So, you might ask, which came first? Indiana or sugar cream pie? The arrival of the Amish began in the 1830s, so apparently Hoosier sugar cream pie predates the Amish. I find it very interesting that in The Hoosier Cookbook, the two recipes following the one for sugar cream pie are Amish Vanilla Pie and Vinegar Pie, two other desperation pies.

One of the more famous purveyors of the Hoosier sugar cream pie is 50-year-old bakery Wick's Pies of Winchester, Indiana. Hoosier expats in Houston will be happy to know that Wick's offers affordable mail-order pie crusts, glazes, and of course, sugar cream pies that can be delivered for your next Colts-watching party.