This is one of the more interesting things I have tried in the kitchen lately. I felt like I was playing God - making a pie from a fruit that most had never considered before. They said couldn't be done.
Finding a recipe from a 1970s Southern cooking cookbook on cantaloupe pie, I realized that we had lost yet another regional foodways tradition. And I wanted to do my part to revive it!
Unfortunately, the original recipe was insufficient. As many older recipes are known to do, it had vague instructions -- the kind of instructions that make sense to the person sharing the information -- these steps are so innate, that they are difficult to pass along to others. But, to those new in the world of baking cantaloupe pies, I found the recipe less than ideal.
While using the original recipe, I realized that it just was not going to work. Too many pieces were missing from the instructions, and I did not sense that the pie would set up.
So, mid-pie, I jumped to the internet. Other variations of cantaloupe pie are out there. Some seem more cheesecake-y than pie-y. I did find a variation of Cantaloupe Pie online that was most like the one I was envisioning - something custard based with a meringue topping - but I mostly relied on my own common sense.
What resulted was a very nice pie, if a bit bland. I think that, in my attempt to ensure a solid pie foundation, I added too much starch, which would up diluting the cantaloupe flavor. Certainly, as I cooked the fruit down to make the pie, it was quite cantaloupey. But baked, it was decidedly less so. My pie also had a grainy texture on the tongue - probably attributable to the amount of starch.
This is definitely a fun pie to attempt, an excellent conversation piece, and, a good way to use up melons!
Original Recipe from Grace Hartley's Southern Cookbook, 1976 edition.
1 cantaloupe, peeled and diced
1 c sugar
1 T vanilla extract
1 8" pie shell, baked
Heat cantaloupe in top of double boiler over boiling water until very hot. Drain off excess liquid. Add sugar and enough cornstarch to thicken. Stir in vanilla and pour into pie shell. Cool and garnish with whipped cream to serve.
- Note - in the above variation, the pie filling itself is never baked. Only cooked on the stovetop, and then cooled. More like a strawberry pie. I went in a different direction.
- The double boiler is not necessary, and only adds time (and dirty dishes). The fruit releases so much liquid so quickly that it would be OK to break the fruit down in a pot over direct flame.
- When my fruit broke down according to the above directions, I still had pieces of fruit chunks. Thinking that would be unpleasant in the pie itself, and wanting more of a consistent custard-like base, I first broke the pieces up with a potato masher. That was not enough, so the entire fruit base went into a blender. Highly recommended.
- My next version will probably use half as much sugar. Going with a full cup probably added to the graininess of the pie.
- I did not use the full tablespoon of vanilla. It seemed quite excessive. Tasting as I went, I probably wound up adding 1/2 - 3/4 tsp.
At this point, I had added probably 1/2 c of cornstarch, and my base was still not sufficiently thickened. This is when I jumped to the internet and stole some ideas from AllRecipes.
1/2 c sugar
8 T flour
1/4 tsp salt
3 egg yolks
2 T water
1 T butter
1/4 tsp butter-flavored extract
3 egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
6 T sugar
1 9" pie crust, baked
- Yes to egg yolks in the batter. This helped firm up the consistently immediately.
- I did add the pat of butter, but didn't notice any improved flavor or consistency. I would not use in the future.
- I liked her inclusion of an amount for your thickener, but cannot say if 8T is correct or not. I had already started with cornstarch. Then, added the eggs, and added about 4 more T of flour for good measure. Then, I had about the consistency I was going for.
- Yes to building a meringue to top the cake, versus serving a flat fruit cake with whipped cream on the side. Not only prettier, but in the long run, easier to serve, too. (Your whipped cream is made all at once, versus per the slice.)
- Not sure if the salt is necessary. Maybe play with this to make the flavor pop a bit more.
- I don't believe the water is necessary, or desired. You just boiled and drained the fruit in an attempt to keep the pie crust from getting soggy. Why would you add water back in?
In all, a tasty (if neutral) pie that is maybe better for conversation than for dramatic eating. Still, this is one I will continue to play with - I think there is a lot of potential out there. Maybe some of the historical cookbooks can give us insight into the best way for presenting this pie.