The Pies That Bind

Desserts to Make Your Holiday

photograph by John Anderson

My mother never prepared a complete holiday meal by herself until after my grandmother Walden died when mother was 40 and I was 12. Nana didn't leave her much to go on. Winnie Kelly Walden was reputed to have been a wonderful cook, but she did indeed take it all with her. She wrote down the ingredients to exactly one recipe that we know of. I honestly don't remember much about her cooking except for her biscuits, cornbread, cobblers, and the Osgood pie that was her tradition at Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was a chess-like pie with a glistening, tangy custard studded with walnut pieces and fat, juicy raisins. When I was very young, I loved the filling and the tender crust but would surreptitiously deposit the raisins under my plate, much to mother's chagrin.

Mother eventually mastered the holiday dinner and even added a few touches of her own, but the Osgood pie became just a memory. During my early career as a dessert chef and caterer, I scoured Southern community cookbooks looking for Osgood pie recipes, curious to find an explanation for the name and hungry to recreate the traditional pie for a family holiday meal. I still don't know who Osgood was or if the name is just short for "oh-so-good," but after much trial and error, I finally came up with a recipe that was "pretty close to mama's," according to my mother. It's a delicious old-fashioned pie, but it never really caught on again with my family. It turned out I'd resurrected Osgood pie only to see it totally eclipsed by a Pennsylvania confection that soon came to dominate all holiday baking requests. The recipe was one of many shared by an inspiring friend.

While I was making desserts at Fonda San Miguel restaurant in the late Seventies, the sous chef in charge of the international lunch menu was a young woman named Susan Trilling. A Philadelphia girl with Mexican and Russian grandmothers, Susan was and is an extraordinary cooking talent. She created the Pennsylvania Dutch Sour Cream Apple Pie for a famous Philadelphia restaurant and generously shared it with me when we worked together. Though an American apple pie was somewhat of an anomaly on an Interior Mexican menu and is no longer served at Fonda San Miguel, in the early days it was necessary to make them a dozen at a time to stay ahead of customer demands. It also became popular with my family and friends. In very little time, I could not attend or prepare a holiday meal without "the apple pie," and that has remained true for 20 years. I don't mind, because it really is the best apple pie there is. In the holiday spirit, here are both recipes in honor of two wonderful cooks.

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