Vinegar pie, buttermilk pie, and corn meal pie—these are all desserts that were in vogue when my grandmothers were growing up in the Great Depression. Made with just a few inexpensive ingredients, these pies—which are all, at heart, a variation on chess pie—were refreshing and still presentable to good company.
But what about pinto bean pie? It’s another oldie but was it also a goodie? I decided to find out on my own.
I’d been curious about bean pie for quite a while. When I first heard of it, I assumed that it was a version of Frito pie that was made with beans instead of chili. But when I heard people talking about eating bean pie for dessert, I realized that I had been wrong and that bean pie is sweet not savory.
After a bit of research, I found quite a few recipes and from the spices added decided that bean pie was trying to approximate a pumpkin or a sweet potato pie, as often included were allspice, cloves, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. And even though some recipes insisted that pinto bean pie was a substitute for pecan pie, after making it I failed to taste how this could be the case.
At first, I was put off by adding mashed beans to my mixture of butter, sugar and eggs. The resulting color of the blend was a bit unappetizing (a less-than-lovely shade of washed-out beige), and, well, it just seemed odd adding mashed pintos to my dessert. Pintos are made for savory dishes, not sweet!
But after I threw some spices into the mix and took a small taste of the uncooked filling, if I hadn’t known that it was beans in the spoonful instead of pumpkin puree, I would have been fooled. After baking it for an hour, the color—thankfully—deepened into a warmer, darker brown. And after topping it with a big scoop of vanilla frozen yogurt, I had my first slice of bean pie. I found it creamy, rich, spicy and fulfilling.
Now, I figured that because it was made with beans it was healthier than your typical slice of pie. And perhaps it is, at least in terms of protein. But it’s still not as healthy as eating a piece of fruit for dessert. (Though I guess if you had fresh fruit you might not even need to make pinto bean pie!)
Since the beans are just there for texture and not flavor (sort of like when you make a cream pie with tofu—which is, incidentally, also beans), I’m eager to make some variations. Such as a chocolate bean pie, made with black beans and spiced with cinnamon and ancho. Or perhaps a banana bean pie or a coconut bean pie or, why not just combine two Depression favorites and make a vinegar bean pie? The possibilities for bean pie combinations are endless!
When my grandmother was telling me about these Depression-era pies, I asked if she’d heard of pinto bean pie. She replied that she hadn’t. She added, “But as long as it doesn’t taste like raisin pie, which is another pie that my mother made back when I was growing up, then bean pie is probably pretty good.”
Raisin pie? Very interesting. But I guess that’s another subject for another day.
1 cup of light brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter at room temperature
1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans with juices
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon clove
A pinch of salt
1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell
Ice cream or whipped cream, for serving
Preheat the oven to 350° F.
In a blender, cream the sugar, butter, and eggs. Add the beans, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, clove, and salt then blend until it’s thick and smooth.
Pour pie filling into an unbaked pie shell, and bake for 1 hour or until an inserted knife comes out clean. Serve warm topped with ice cream or whipped cream.
Yield: 8 servings