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These sweet and savory pies represent family. They’re perfect for any occasion.

An earlier version of this story omitted instructions for Phoebe’s Sweet Potato Cream Pie recipe.

This story was updated Dec. 19 to reflect a corrected recipe.

As the holidays near and we get caught up in the romantic nostalgia of Christmas Past, it’s lovely to gaze into the fireplace and ponder the ties that bind.

For Durham chef Sara Foster, the rituals of the holiday lead her to a happy childhood spent in the kitchens of her mother, grandmother and beloved aunts, all of whom fed the insatiable appetite that would fuel one of the South’s most accomplished chefs and cookbook writers.

“Our household was the kind where the entire extended family gathered for every holiday,” says Foster, the owner of Foster’s Market in Durham, in an interview.

She’s also the author of “Pie,” a cookbook of 38 sweet pies, nine savory ones and 11 crusts. Published this fall, it’s the most recent single-topic collection in the acclaimed Savor the South series of cookbooks from the University of North Carolina Press.

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University of North Carolina Press

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No matter the occasion, generations of women and a couple of uncles would bake enough pies to crowd a sideboard and satisfy everyone’s sweet tooth. Learning from cooks who rarely wrote down recipes, or who calculated amounts with such non-standard measures as a teacup, she declared an early preference for Chocolate Meringue but rarely said no to the endless array of chess pies and citrus creams that were carried into the house, especially in celebration of Christmas.

“Everybody had their specialty and brought different things,” recalls Foster, who recreates a number of family recipes in “Pie,” including several from the adored matriarch Granny Foster.

She also features a few restaurant favorites, like the Fig Pecan Frangipane Tart, a summer treat made from fruit plucked just steps from the kitchen, and the amusingly named Quiche Loretta, rich with crumbled bacon, shredded Gruyere and heavy cream.

Traditional pumpkin and pecan pies are perennial holiday favorites. Based on past sales, she predicts nearly 300 families around the Triangle are likely to slice into one or more this season.

But Foster urges pie lovers to try something a little different this year.

“I really like the Maple Walnut Pie,” says Foster, who finds the marriage of maple syrup and walnuts a perfect pairing. “I had it for the first time when we were living in the Northeast. It’s delicious and very easy to make.”

While this pie is decidedly sweet, Foster says it’s not as treacly gooey as most pecan pies. Confident home cooks can tweak her recipes to achieve the flavor balance they prefer.

“Personally, I prefer pie to be a little on the tart side,” she says. “It also makes it easier to enjoy a slice for breakfast the next day.”

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Jamie West-McGiver



If you’re bringing a pie to a holiday gathering where all the standards likely will be provided, Foster recommends thinking seasonally to make use of the bright flavors of winter citrus.

Consider Bill Smith’s legendary Atlantic Beach Pie, a Crook’s Corner standard that cradles a creamy lemon-lime filling in a crushed-saltine crust, or one of Foster’s favorites, the Indian River Citrus Pie. This ode to Florida’s roadside citrus stands whisks the juices of lemon, lime, orange and grapefruit into a custard, which is poured into a gingersnap crust and spiked with finely chopped crystallized ginger.

“I can’t resist winter citrus,” says Foster, who awaits the arrival of Cara Cara and blood oranges, Meyer lemons and satsumas with an enthusiasm usually reserved for children straining to hear reindeer hooves on the rooftop.

Smith, the outgoing chef of Crook’s, isn’t the only Triangle name in “Pie.” Vanilla Sorghum Nut Butter from Durham’s Big Spoon Roasters gets a shoutout in Foster’s Sweet and Salty Peanut and Pepsi Nut Pie, and Chapel Hill Toffee makes an appearance in the namesake Chapel Hill Toffee Pecan Pie.

Additionally, pastry chef Phoebe Lawless, of the much-missed Scratch bakery in Durham, is represented with her Sweet Potato Cream Pie, which features a tender gluten-free crust.

Jill Warren Lucas is a Raleigh-based freelance writer. She can be reached at 3lucases@gmail.com or on Twitter @jwlucasnc.

Maple Walnut Pie

The Noon Mark Diner in Keene Valley, New York, a small town on the road to Lake Placid, is known for its pies. The diner makes about a hundred pies every day – everything from lemon meringue to strawberry rhubarb – but my favorite is the maple walnut. Usually when you pop in, the pies are still warm, just out of the oven. It has become a tradition for our houseguests to stop and buy a pie or two (depending on how long they are staying) on their way to Lake Placid. This is my adaptation of Noon Mark Diner’s maple walnut pie; it’s pretty close and is delicious.

One 9-inch parbaked Everyday Flaky Piecrust

4 large eggs, well beaten

1 cup maple syrup

1 cup granulated sugar

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1⁄2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt

1⁄4 teaspoon ground cloves

1⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 1⁄4 cup roughly chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the prepared crust on a rimmed baking sheet and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the eggs, maple syrup, sugar, butter, nutmeg, salt, cloves and cinnamon and stir to mix. Stir in the walnuts to distribute evenly.

Pour the filling into the prepared crust and place on the center rack in the oven to bake for 40 to 45 minutes, rotating halfway through, until the pie is set around the edges and slightly loose in the center. Remove from the oven and cool about 1 hour before slicing. Serve warm with vanilla bean ice cream, lightly sweetened whipped cream, or a pool of eggnog.

Yield: Makes one 9-inch pie. Serves 8-10.

From “PIE: A Savor the South” cookbook by Sara Foster. Copyright 2018 by Sara Foster. Used by permission of the University of North Carolina Press. uncpress.org

An earlier version of this story omitted instructions for Phoebe’s Sweet Potato Cream Pie recipe.

Phoebe’s Sweet Potato Cream Pie

Durham chef Phoebe Lawless has been turning out pies since 2008. Starting as a one-woman operation at the Durham Farmers’ Market, she whips up everything from Shaker lemon pie to sea salt chocolate crostatas on the sweet side. And on the savory side (my favorite), she makes pigs in a blanket, squash and apple crostatas, turnip and sausage empanadas, and many more flavorful pies, all driven by the seasons. Her beloved Scratch Bakery closed earlier this year. If you’re looking for a good gluten-free crust for other pies, the crust in this recipe is a great option.

For the crust:

1 1⁄2 cup rolled oats

1⁄4 cup sesame seeds

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt

6 tablespoons (3⁄4 stick) unsalted butter, melted

For the caramel layer:

1⁄2 cup heavy cream

1 cup granulated sugar

1⁄4 cup water

1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt

For the Filling:

1 1⁄4 cups milk

1⁄2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped

3⁄4 cup granulated sugar

1⁄4 cup cornstarch

1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1⁄4 teaspoon ground ginger

1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 large eggs

2 large egg yolks

1 cup sweet potato purée from one medium-large to large sweet potato (see Note below)

4 tablespoons (1⁄2 stick) unsalted butter

For the topping:

1 cup heavy cream

1⁄4 cup granulated sugar

For the crust: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the oats, sesame seeds, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to crush the oats. (Do not pulse to a fine dust; the crumbs will have small pieces remaining.) Add the melted butter and pulse until the dry ingredients are moistened.

Press the mixture evenly on the bottom and up the sides of the pan to form the crust. Freeze or refrigerate for 30 minutes until firm.

Place the pie pan on a rimmed baking sheet on the center rack in the oven to bake just until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

For the caramel layer: Pour the cream into a heavy-bottomed, non-aluminum saucepan over medium heat and bring to just under a boil, stirring occasionally, to warm the cream. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a separate deep, heavy saucepan-bottomed, combine the sugar, water and salt. Stir to mix and bring to a boil over medium heat. Continue to boil without stirring, swirling the pan occasionally, until the mixture is amber colored, 5-8 minutes. Remove the caramel from the heat. Slowly add the cream, pouring it to the side of the pan; it will boil rapidly. When it stops boiling, whisk until smooth and allow to cool. Whisk the caramel periodically as it continues to cool. Once cooled to room temperature, spread in the bottom of the prepared crust and refrigerate until firm.

For the custard layer: Place the milk in a heavy-bottomed, non-aluminum saucepan over medium heat. Add the vanilla bean and seeds and whisk to mix. To scald the milk, bring just under a boil, whisking often. The milk will start to bubble around the edges and steam. Remove from the heat and discard the vanilla bean.

In a large bowl, combine the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, ginger, pepper and salt and stir to mix. Add the eggs, egg yolks and sweet potato puree (see note below) and whisk until combined. Slowly add about 1 cup of the warm milk mixture, whisking constantly, to temper the eggs. Whisk the egg mixture back into the remaining milk mixture in the saucepan and place back over medium-low heat.

Continue to cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens, 3-4 minutes. You want to see a few bubbles begin to rise slowly from the bottom of the pan. Do not let the mixture come to a full boil or cook too long — you will overcook the eggs. The mixture is thick enough when the whisk leaves tracks as you stir.

Remove from the heat to stop the cooking process and strain through a mesh strainer into a large bowl. Add the butter and whisk until melted. Place a layer of plastic wrap directly on the custard and set aside to cool slightly.

Once the filling has cooled to room temperature, spread it evenly over the custard layer and refrigerate the pie until firm, at least 2 hours or overnight.

For the topping: When ready to serve, place the heavy cream in a medium bowl and beat with an electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form. Add the sugar and continue to beat just to combine.

Remove the pie from the refrigerator. Top with the whipped cream, slice and serve cold or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Note: To make the sweet potato puree, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Wrap 1 large sweet potato in foil and bake for 50-60 minutes until very soft to the touch. Remove the foil; when cool enough to handle, slip the skin off. Place the sweet potato in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and puree until smooth. One medium-large to large sweet potato makes about 1 cup of puree.

Yield: Makes one 9-inch pie. Serves 8-10.

From “PIE: A Savor the South” cookbook by Sara Foster. Copyright 2018 by Sara Foster. Used by permission of the University of North Carolina Press. uncpress.org

Everyday Flaky Piecrust

My sister Judy gave me this recipe years ago; it’s the perfect recipe for a good, flaky piecrust that’s easy to work with. She makes her crust with all-vegetable shortening, which makes it extra flaky. I make mine with a mixture of butter and vegetable shortening because I like the flavor of butter as well as the flaky texture the shortening gives the crust.

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting your hands and work surface

3 tablespoons granulated sugar, plus more for dusting your hands and work surface

1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt

1⁄2 cup plus 3 tablespoons vegetable shortening, cut into small pieces and chilled

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled

1⁄3 cup ice water, plus 2 to 4 more tablespoons as needed

1 large egg

1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, and salt. Add the shortening and butter and cut it into the flour mixture with a handheld pastry blender or your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse meal with pea- to almond-size pieces of butter and a few larger chunks. It is important to work quickly to make this dough so that the butter and shortening remain cold.

In a separate small bowl, beat the egg with 1⁄3 cup of the water and the vinegar. Pour the egg around the edges of the flour mixture while working it into the mixture with a fork just until the dough starts to clump together. Do not over mix. If the dough is too dry, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough comes together.

Lightly dust your hands and work surface with flour. Turn the dough out onto the surface and press it together. Divide the dough in half and shape each piece into a flat, round disk. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 3 days.

Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and place it on a lightly floured surface. If the dough is too hard, let it sit for 5-10 minutes before rolling. Dust a rolling pin with flour and roll the dough to form a 12-inch circle about 1⁄8 inch thick. Brush off any excess flour after rolling. Fold the dough in half or gently roll it up onto the rolling pin and lift to place in the 9-inch pie pan. Press the dough lightly into the bottom and up the sides of the pan.

Trim the edges of the dough with a pair of kitchen shears, leaving about 1⁄2 inch of dough draping over the side. Turn the extra dough under itself. Crimp the edge of the pie or flatten it with the tines of a fork. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze for at least 1 hour before baking. Repeat with the other piece of dough. At this point the crust can be wrapped and frozen for up to 2 months. This way you’ll always have a piecrust on hand.

Yield: Makes two 9-inch piecrusts or one 9-inch double-crust pie

From “PIE: A Savor the South” cookbook by Sara Foster. Copyright 2018 by Sara Foster. Used by permission of the University of North Carolina Press. uncpress.org

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