Sugar Cream Pie, Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie, Quebec Sugar Cream Pie, Tartes au sucre, or Finger Pie are all names for the same type of pie.
This pie consists of simply a pie shell spread with layers of creamed butter and maple or brown sugar with a sprinkling of flour, then filled with vanilla-flavored cream and baked. The filling is dense and sweet, but when properly baked it is at once loosely jiggly – while also solid enough to slice. Think pecan pie without the pecans and you are on the right track.
Sugar Cream Pie or Sugar Pie – Believed to have originated from the Amish and Shaker communities.
Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie – Since 2009, Sugar Cream Pie is the official Indiana state pie. The Indiana General Assembly officially elevated the status of this humble dessert in 2009.
Finger Pie – Sugar Cream Pie is referred to as “Finger Pie” because of the method used to mix the ingredients. This is done to prevent incorporating any air into the cream before the pie is baked.
Quebec Sugar Cream Pie, Tartes au Sucre – A favorite with the French-Canadian people of Canada. Such tarts are common in Northern France (and Belgium), from where so many of the original immigrants to la Nouvelle France, now Quebec, came from.
More recipes for Sugar Cream Pie.
History of Sugar Cream Pie:
1850s – The recipe appears to have originated in Indiana with the Shaker and/or Amish communities in the 1800s as a great pie recipe to use when the apple bins were empty. You will find somewhat similar pies in the Pennsylvania Dutch County and a few other places in the United States with significant Amish populations. The Shakers believed in eating hearty and healthy food. They definitely must have had a sweet tooth, though, judging by the sugar cream pie.
This pie was also know as finger pie because the filling was sometimes stirred with a finger during the baking process to prevent breaking the bottom crust. People used to skim the thick yellow cream from the top of chilled fresh milk to make this delectable dessert.
The following information is courtesy of Joanne Raetz Stuttgen, author of Cafe Indiana:
I suspect there is no single origin of sugar cream pie. It is a simple and basic pie “desperation pie” that could be made with ingredients that would have nearly always been on hand on any farm, just like buttermilk pie, vinegar pie, and mock apple pie using green tomatoes. It’s possible that it may have originated with Indiana pioneers, or with the Amish, who make a similar type of egg less baked cream pie.
The Hoosier Cookbook (1976), by Elaine Lumbra and Jacqueline Lacy, includes but one recipe for sugar cream pie. The note says it is a 160-year-old recipe; it was contributed by Mrs. Kenneth D. Hahn of Miami County. This would take the recipe back to 1816, the year of Indiana statehood. So, you might ask, which came first? Indiana or sugar cream pie? The arrival of the Amish began in the 1830s, so apparently Hoosier sugar cream pie predates the Amish. I find it very interesting that in The Hoosier Cookbook, the two recipes following the one for sugar cream pie are Amish Vanilla Pie and Vinegar Pie, two other desperation pies.
I’ve had a chance to do some research and make some calls to the Shaker villages in Kentucky, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, a historian of Shaker religion at Indiana University, and the local extension homemakers council. The “finger” sugar cream pie you have in your cookbook may be derived from the Eastern Shaker community, West Union Shaker Village in Busro, Indiana. A recipe for Sister Lizzie’s Sugar Pie appears in The Best of Shaker Cooking by Amy Bess Williams Miller and Persis Wellington Fuller. The historian at Shaker Hill is unfamiliar with the pie among the foodways of the Western community, of which the short-lived Indiana community (1810-1827) was a part. She doubts that its origins lie in the western community.
The dry mix method was/is apparently also by the Amish (Haedrich, 373), of which there are large and very old communities in Indiana. I am also familiar with a baked Amish cream pie that is similar to sugar cream, but it has a stiffer texture (more like pumpkin pie) and is not as “gluey” as sugar cream.
There are many varied recipes for sugar cream pie in Hoosier compiled cookbooks. Most have very similar ingredients (a few have eggs or egg yolks), but the cooking methods vary. Instructions include cooking the filling on the stove top and pouring it into a baked pie shell, at which time the pie is finished; or, then putting the cooked filling/baked pie shell in the oven and baking 10 to 15 minutes; or putting the uncooked filling in an unbaked pie shell and baking the pie until it is done, about an hour or longer. None of the methods have the baker putting the dry ingredients into the shell, pouring over the liquid, and baking the pie in the oven. No one I have talked to here in Indiana has ever made the pie that way. Although to be honest, few people I talked to make the pie at all, or had mothers who made it.
In my opinion, Hoosier sugar cream pie is best distinguished by the lack of eggs (even though some local recipes include them) and the wet filling.
Quebec Sugar Cream Pie Recipe – Tartes au Sucre:
I stumbled across your “History of Sugar Cream Pie” article and was interested in the additional information provided by Joanne Raetz Stuttgen below. While she states that she has not encountered anyone who mixes the ingredients right in the pie crust, we have a very old family recipe (Quebec “habitant” or farm folk) that has been passed down through the generations that calls for mixing the dry ingredients in the pie shell and adding the liquid. There are only three ingredients: brown sugar, flour, and cream. The filling is the mixed either with a finger or a wooden spoon before baking for about an hour. – Yves Quinty, Ottawa, Ontario Canada (3/25/09)
Comments From Readers:
(5/29/07) – I googled “sugar cream pie” because members of my family from Richmond, Indiana, are wondering about the origins. My mother’s recipe, handed down from her mother, who descended from a pioneer Quaker family, uses the dry method and uses the finger for stirring. My mother told me that finger stirring in the unbaked crust is necessary so as not to whip the cream before baking. We sprinkle fresh grated nutmeg over the top before baking. Our family recipe, by the way, does not include butter or eggs.
I appreciate your research in this area. The study of food ways is fascinating. An old eastern Indiana/western Ohio trait is to refer to bell peppers as mangos. The practice has pretty much died out as real mangos are so readily available in the groceries today.
Check out Sister Susan Karina Dickey’s Sugar Cream Pie Recipes.
Sister Susan Karina Dickey, O.P., Ph.D.
Director of Archives & Diocesan Historian
Diocese of Springfield in Illinois