Southern Pies by Nancie McDermott

Book Review

Pie. Most of us love it. Most of us eat it. Some of us bake it. Others fear baking it and are baffled by the mystery of it all. If you fall into any one of these camps, there's a new book you'll like. And it's perfect for this season of hunkering down, bundling up, and sitting for hours with friends talking about nothing and eating pie.

Title and Publisher: Southern Pies: A Gracious Plenty of Pie Recipes from Lemon Chess to Chocolate Pecan by Nancie McDermott with photos by Leigh Beisch. Published by Chronicle Books, 2010.

First Impressions: This is a sweet little book with over 60 pie recipes you may not have seen before (unless you've lived in the South for any period of time, of course). McDermott focuses on classic favorites and less familiar regional specialties, and gears the book towards everyday pie bakers and novices alike.

The Angle: This cookbook is perfect for anyone interested in making old-fashioned American pie, and particularly for those who appreciate the Southern tradition and heritage behind pie making. Not only will you have dozens of recipes at your disposal, but you'll also get tidbits on Southern history, and the background and origin of each pie.

The Recipes: The recipes are organized thematically, with chapters ranging from "Fall and Winter Pies," to "Chocolate Pies" or "Antiques and Heirlooms." While some of the unfamiliar recipes may seem daunting at first, most are actually quite simple. McDermott covers a few different types of pie crust towards the back of the book and once you've made a few different crusts, you have great control of the types of pies at your disposal and you're well on your way to Southern pie mastery.

Other Stuff: Scared of crust? Pie anxiety? McDermott will put those fears to rest with her easy going nature and writing style. She has entire pages devoted to topics like "Meringue Anxiety" or "You Can Do This Lard Pie Crust." You're in good hands. There is also great coverage on making pie crusts, traditional Southern ingredients, and notes on classic techniques. And of course, what Southern baking book would be complete without a "Sources for Southern Food and Cooking" page? Here, McDermott discusses where to find important ingredients like black walnuts, Tennessee sorghum and buttermilk powder.

Overall Impressions: In trying to reinvent the wheel, recipe writers and pastry chefs are always experimenting with new ingredients and flavor profiles that may just lead to the next big thing. If you're looking for that, this isn't the book for you. And that's why we love it. McDermott celebrates the history of Southern pie with a few simple ingredients and the way they come together to make an entire room of people smile.

While we love her breadth of recipes and clear writing style, the thematic organization felt a bit schizophrenic at times. If McDermott is going to focus on seasonal pies, she should stick with that. It's broad and it works. Or organize the book around regions. Instead, she tries to do a bit too much with very specific chapters on chess pies and chocolate pies to very broad chapters on seasonal pies. We love the book—we just couldn't help but wonder if there was a better way to structure it. We also wish that McDermott spent a little time talking about the best kind of lard to use in pie crust and where to find it. Your pie crust can suffer if you use everyday corner market lard, and crust made with leaf lard is just so darn good.

Recommended? Absolutely! Stuck in an apple pie rut this fall? Chained to the pumpkin pie routine for Thanksgiving? Southern Pies will help shake up your pie world—for the better.

Recipes for Right Now: We can't wait to try some of the regional recipes like the Shaker Lemon Pie from Kentucky and the Sapelo Island Pear Pie from Georgia's Sea Islands. A must for fall is the Pecan Chiffon Pie, Black Walnut Pie and the Old-Time Chess Pie.

Buy the Book: Southern Pie: A Gracious Plenty of Recipes, From Lemon Chess to Chocolate Pecan by Nancie McDermott, $16 on Amazon.com

Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. However, the manufacturer did give us the product for testing and review purposes.

(Image: Chronicle Books)

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Megan is a freelance writer, recipe developer and cookbook writer. Her first book, Whole-Grain Mornings, (Ten Speed Press) is available in bookstores nationwide. Megan also owns the Seattle-based artisan cereal company, Marge Granola.