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Rediscovering Poor Manís Pie

†My grandmother made a single-crust pie with canned milk, sugar, vanilla, and no eggs. Have you ever heard of this, and do you know of a recipe? It has been called Poor Man's Pie or Milk Pie by the family.

†Milk Pie has a long heritage among the Amish, and appears to reach back to Holland and Germany before that. The name Poor Man's Pie is also associated with the same type of recipe, and was apparently a treat for those laboring in the Dust Bowl and during the Depression. We even found one recipe that uses water instead of milk — we'd call that Dirt Poor Man's Pie.

Most of the Amish recipes we've looked at use either brown sugar or a mixture of white and brown sugar (the Amish might often call it Brown Sugar Pie). Some recipes also call for cream, half & half, or whole milk, or a mixture of them, instead of or in addition to evaporated milk.

There is a bigger controversy, though. You mix the sugar, flour, and salt in the pie crust with your fingers, then you pour the milk on top. But do you just let it sit there, or do you mix it with the dry ingredients? Most of the recipes we found tell you not to mix in the milk.

Our inclination would be to mix it. The reason flour is in the recipe is to help the milk thicken and set up. Perhaps it's not traditional, but we would mix the flour, sugar, salt, and milk in a food processor for a few seconds to make sure the flour was well dispersed in the milk. Then when the pie bakes, the filling will set up uniformly. It may still be a somewhat runny pie, but at least the filling will be uniform, and you won't find clumps of raw flour in this bite or that.

We have also found a Milk Pie that is popular in South Africa, but it uses at least one egg. There is also a traditional Greek milk pie (Galaktoboureko), but it uses a lot of eggs, and phyllo dough for the crust, so that is almost certainly not what your grandmother made.

Here is a traditional recipe (without our clever food-processing recommendation). It uses cinnamon instead of vanilla to add flavor, but obviously, you can add vanilla, almond extract, or other flavorings to dress it up a little.


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