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A Pie Worth Waiting 40 Years For

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With a little digging, we're sometimes lucky enough to unearth Heirloom Recipes, dishes that have made their way from one generation's kitchen to the next. 

Today: When families blend, recipes evolve, and pie tastes better than ever.

I grew up in a house where lemon-drenched salads and rich chocolate tarts were the norm rather than the exception; where my upbringing was strictly Pacific Northwestern (no meat loaf, no soda, no understanding of the importance of pie); and where everything changed when my parents got divorced and my mom met David, a textbook Midwesterner born in rural South Dakota.

When I met David, I immediately took issue with his misguided palate (which included a general disinterest in lemon and garlic) and his deep-seated desire to help me overcome my fear of the two-wheeled monster most people refer to as a bicycle. But then David let me try a sip of his Coca-Cola and I started to see that his culinary preferences weren't as terrible as I was ready to believe. 

Left: Hannah with her two step-brothers, mother, and David; Right: David fishing in Naselle.

The day our families blended, David took over all of the cooking. While my mom and I retired our three-year streak of chips and dip, David quickly learned that it didn’t count as dinner unless my family's signature lemon-coated salad made it to the table. Dinner with David always involved stories about his fly fishing trips to Alaska, his loyal hunting dog Casey, and a pie he ate weekly when he lived in Naselle, Washington, a 400-person logging town at the mouth of the Columbia River. 

This pie haunted David and he spoke of it frequently: When we watched the Seattle Mariners play ball, he would find a ways to spin it into the conversation. When my mom wove expert lattice tops, he would comment that there was no top crust on the Naselle beauty. And when we were in the midst of rolling krumkake for Christmas, he would sigh audibly and state, for all to hear, that he wished he could have just one more bite of Sour Cream-Raisin Pie.

Forty years after moving from Naselle, his angle still hasn’t changed: 

To say that Naselle was a sleepy town would be an overstatement. The ‘dining scene’ consisted of two taverns and a restaurant named The Orange Tree. I adored The Orange Tree, the fact it was open from 4 A.M. to 2 P.M., the serious servings, and the swinging sign on the door prohibiting Corkies, or logging shoes. To some this sign meant taking off their spiked logging shoes before heading in for breakfast but, to me, it meant something else entirely: Three eggs, six slices of bacon, and a heap of hash browns. I was so content with these gargantuan breakfasts that for a long time, I managed to overlook the towering pie display. Finally, one fateful afternoon, I asked my server for a slice of banana cream; instead she took me under her wing and brought over a slice of Sour Cream-Raisin. As I held the fork in my hand, cream filling dancing, I lamented the lack of bananas and the thin meringue. But once I tried the pie, I knew: I’d been let in on a secret. I came back over and over again. The pie was so good I (practically) forgot about the bacon.

What was often left out of this elaborate dinner time reminiscing were the more concrete details about Naselle, like the fact that it is made up of a community of Finnish immigrants and that the last name Wirkkala is as prevalent as well-worn Corkies. And because the world is small and dreams do come true, ten years deep into this story, my mom took a job at OSPI where her co-worker bore the classic Naselle name. As luck would have it, my mother’s co-worker Angie Wirrkala had a family connection to David's favorite pie: Her grandmother, Marie Fauver, was the cook (and pie baker) at The Orange Tree—and my mom ended up with a handwritten recipe of the now-legendary Sour Cream-Raisin Pie.

The recipe was vague, lacking in step-by-step directions and precise measurements—How big is a handful? Were Marie's hands petite?—but my mom bravely went back into the kitchen to turn this storied dessert into a reality. It only took one day, five pies, and a very excited family to eat the results. One bite and we were sold—and secretly thankful for David’s persistent storytelling and his ability to live in a town where the entertainment was minimal and the pie noteworthy:

Sour Cream-Raisin Pie

Makes 1 pie

For the pre-baked pie crust:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup shortening, cut into small cubes
1/2 cup ice water (measure 1/2 cup of water and fill the rest of the measuring cup with ice; refrigerate until needed), or as needed

For the sour cream-raisin filling:

5 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
2 2/3 cups milk, divided
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup raisins
4 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup sour cream

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here!

Photos of pie by James Ransom; all others provided by Hannah Peteril

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Tags: Profiles, Food History, Heirloom Recipes, Comfort Food