Despite its featured spot in bakery cases and on dessert tables, pie began as a savory food. People originally baked them to preserve food and stretch leftovers—a necessity in the cooler, less abundant months. Because it was developed for savory uses, pie dough isn’t inherently sweet. However, by the 1950s, savory pie recipes fell to the wayside when ingredients like canned fruits, pre-mixed puddings, and frozen pie shells meant homemakers could whip up dessert with little extra effort, any time of year.
The mid-century pie trend took off, bringing with it experimentation with pre-made fillings, from Oreos to Ritz Crackers to Cool Whip. Lately, however, people are returning to the roots of pie, using them as a way to showcase in-season ingredients. Walking the line between the two styles, pastry chef Caitlyn Cox calls herself the “modern grandmother of baking.” She grew up cooking with her mother and grandmother, and, today, in the kitchen at RT Lodge in Maryville, Tennessee, she does “vintage desserts that have a bit of whimsy.”
In a restaurant designed to highlight produce sourced around Eastern Tennessee, Cox pays homage to the pies her mom and grandmother made, upgrading the customary pre-made ingredients with entirely from-scratch variations. Think, icebox strawberry pie lightened up with a cream cheese mousse and in-season strawberries and a spin on Atlantic Beach pie that reflects Cox’s childhood in South Florida. To her, dessert pies should be cold. “Think about it, you have a big meal and you’re full; it’s my goal to make things that are refreshing and light.”
When it comes to baked versions with a traditional crust, Cox leans into the pie’s early days, using them to showcase seasonal vegetables RT Lodge sources throughout the year. Her secret to an ultra-flaky crust is cold butter, cold water, and laminating the dough once (rolling it out and folding it back on itself). She promises that taking that time to add the extra layers is worth it.
Heading into summer, you can put Cox’s “modern grandmother” spin on traditional sweet and savory pie recipes with little more than two basic crusts, fresh ingredients, and, yes, a little whimsy.
Sweet and Savory Pie Recipes with Southern Roots
Cox’s grandmother used to make this frozen pie in a brownie pan for the 4th of July. At RT Lodge, Cox transfers that concept to a pie plate, making a strawberry puree from fresh berries and swapping out the creamy filling for a cream cheese mousse. The salty pretzel pie crust helps cut through the sweet filling.
You can’t go wrong with tomato in Tennessee, Cox claims. After all, it’s the state fruit. You see variations of tomato pie throughout the South, but Cox pulled inspiration from summertime salads to create her recipe. Dukkah spice and pistachios give this savory pie recipe a touch of nuttiness that offsets the acidic tomatoes and rich, cheesy filling.
“Not every home baker has time to make the perfect pie crust,” Cox says. “I wanted to make one with Saltines instead.” That immediately put her on the path to Bill Smith’s iconic Atlantic Beach pie. Her version—punched up with passion fruit, guava puree, and a Coco Lopez-spiked whipped cream—gives a nod to her Florida childhood, where she was surrounded by tropical flavors.
Traditionally known as “corn casserole,” Cox avoids the term because, “casserole doesn’t sound as appealing.” She likens this recipe to a quiche, with an egg-based custard filling and lots of caramelized shallots and shredded gruyère for a deep flavor.
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