Holiday Tradition Tastes Like Rum Pie

Dec 21, 2017

Elspeth Hay's grandmother "Biee," or Bobby Cary.
Credit Elspeth Hay

I’ve been thinking a lot the past few weeks about my grandmother. Biee as we called her, or Bobby Cary—was an excellent cook. She lived in Virginia, far away from my parents in Maine—and after my grandfather died in the nineties, she’d come to visit two or three times a year. She only flew on Wednesdays—the cheapest and according to her safest day to fly—and she always came for the month of December.

The weeks leading up to Christmas were filled with cooking—Biee made eggnog and tenderloin and stuffed potatoes and many, many desserts. Dessert was always her favorite.

Finally in her mid-nineties Biee stopped traveling, and the day after Christmas in 2015, she passed away at 97. I miss her all the time, but this time of year is when I think of her most. I think we all reach for the past and tradition during the holidays—it’s where we find meaning. Recently I pulled out a recording I made of my grandmother on a 2009 visit to Virginia with my mom. Biee was 91 at the time and had decided she didn’t want her recipe book anymore; she was ready for someone else to cook. We talked for hours and she told us about recipe after recipe. Late in the day, we got to rum pie. 

Biee was reluctant to share—she was tired, and she said we already had the history of rum pie. But we got her to tell us—you can listen to her memories in the piece. And below is Bobby Cary's recipe for rum pie.

BIEE’S RUM PIE

This recipe comes originally from a restaurant my grandmother, Bobby Cary, loved in Sandusky, Ohio. My mom has adapted the original to make it “less fussy.” She always makes it around the holidays—it’s essentially eggnog in pie form.

for the crust:

1 package plain [not honey or cinnamon] graham crackers (= 9 full cracker sheets)

4 Tablespoons butter

1/4 cup sugar

for the filling:

2 eggs, separated

1/4 cup granulated sugar plus 1/3 cup sugar, divided

fine grain sea salt

2 cups half-and-half

1 package (1 tablespoon) plain gelatin 

1/4 cup cold water

2 tablespoons rum (dark or light)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 square dark chocolate, grated

Crush the graham crackers on a large cutting board or in a plastic bag; use a rolling pin to get them finely, and uniformly, ground up. In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Stir in the sugar and then the crushed graham crackers. Mix well and then pat into a pie plate.

Set aside. 

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat the two egg yolks lightly, stir in a pinch of salt and 1/4 cup sugar, and set aside. Save the egg whites, as you'll need these later.

In a medium-sized saucepan, scald the half-and-half over medium heat. Keep an eye on it and give it an occasional stir. When it's ready, slowly pour the scalded half-and-half into the egg mixture, stirring constantly. Then pour the mixture back into your saucepan and return it to medium heat on the stove. You're going to cook this custard about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until it is smooth and slightly thickened. 

As soon as you return the custard to the heat to thicken, get out a small bowl or custard cup and pour the gelatin and cold water into it. Let this mixture soak for 5 minutes—by which time your custard should be ready. Remove the custard from the heat, pour in the gelatin, and stir until it’s dissolved. Chill the custard (either in the fridge or in a safe place outdoors) until it begins to thicken. This can take about an hour.

Once your custard has thickened, get out another mixing bowl and beat the egg whites, gradually adding the remaining 1/3 cup sugar. Beat until stiff. Fold the egg whites into the custard with the rum and vanilla. Pour into the crust and chill until set, at least 2 hours. Before serving, dust the top of the pie with grated chocolate.