I found traditional Kentucky foods galore at the Old Washington Opening Day Arts Festival yesterday. I was especially intrigued by the Transparent Pies!
What Makes it Special?
This regional dessert is:
It’s made mainly of sugar, eggs, cream and butter–a simple custard pie that a frontier wife could make with ingredients on hand. Its closest cousin might be Chess Pie. It has also been compared to Buttermilk, Sugar, and Jefferson Davis Pies.
How is it Made?
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup cream
- 4 eggs, beaten
- 2 tbs. flour
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 unbaked (9-inch) pie shell
Preheat oven to 375°. Line a 9-inch pie pan or tart pan with pie crust.
Place in freezer while you prepare filling to prevent shrinking while baking. Beat together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add cream, and mix until smooth. Beat in eggs until combined, then stir in flour and vanilla. Pour into pie shell. Bake at 375°. for 40 minutes or until custard filling is set and the top is golden brown.
What’s the History?
While there are special pies all over the South, Transparent Pies are unique to Kentucky and specifically northern Kentucky. Although Magee’s Bakery in Maysville (“Family Owned Since 1956”) made it famous, Jeanne Voltz, author of The Flavor of the South explains:
There are a lot of similar desserts that share the same ingredients. That’s because the South was at one time agrarian, and a farm woman had to cook with what was there—things like eggs, butter, sugar….She’d put it all together and try to make something out of it, and when it was good, she’d try to remember what she did.
The Maysville natives who blog at A Couple of Crazy Ladies date it to the settlement era (and discuss why it’s called Transparent Pie):
I know what you’re thinking. Why is it transparent? Can you see through it? I’ve only heard that joke my entire life…..this pie may have come about around the same time the state of Kentucky did since it’s an old frontier recipe designed to make use of the simple, sparse ingredients a pioneer family would have on hand. The oldest written recipe I found for it dates to around 1836 and calls for only three ingredients: butter, eggs, and sugar. The result is a thin, glossy confection that actually is nearly transparent when sliced into slivers.
Who is its Biggest Fan?
I hadn’t heard of this pie until I moved to Kentucky and read a news article about George and Amal Clooney’s visit home to Maysville in 2015:
Actor George Clooney loves transparent pies from the Magee’s Bakery in rural Mason County.
Kentucky native Clooney has talked about the pies through much of his career: He brought actress Alicia Silverstone to the bakery when it was still downtown and the two were starring in Batman & Robin, one of the less-remembered movies in the Batman franchise.
At the “Leatherheads” premier in Maysville, Kentucky in 2008, George Clooney answers a question about what he enjoys most when he makes a visit back home:
The stock answer is it’s great to see family, great to see your friends, but the real answer? Go to Magee’s and get transparent pies. Trust me. You’ll eat one of those little pies–by the way, you can just take it and stuff it in your heart, it’ll kill you–but it’s the greatest thing you’ll ever taste in your life. YouTube video from Cincinnati.com
Tell Me More!
Magee’s Bakery (website)
Kentucky Transparent Pie (Sugar Pies Food blog)
Transparent pie–like chess pie, but not (boonie foodie blog)
Maysville’s Historic Transparent Pie (Kentucky Tourism)
Transparent Pie: A Kentucky Derby Favorite (It’s Not Rocket Science blog)
Transparent Pudding (Colonial Williamsburg Historic Foodways Presents: History is Served)
A Sweeter Slice of Life (Kentucky Monthly)
Maysville-Mason County in 50 Objects: Transparent Pudding and Pie (The Maysville Ledger-Independent)
April 10, 2016