I was on a train in Kentucky when I heard the words, "Pinto Bean Pie." We were sitting around a communal table talking about popular attractions we've both visited in Tennessee, including the famous Bush's Baked Beans tour. The factory, which is located in Chestnut Hill, features an interactive tour complete with a scale that tells you how many pinto beans you weigh and a cafe. When I personally visited I did not go into the cafe, however, according to my train-companion, I surely missed out on one of the best pie recipes in the south, Pinto Bean Pie.
Pinto Bean Pie, The Unsung Dessert of the South
When the Great Depression hit in the 1920s, our Southern grandmothers had to do whatever they could to stretch the family dollar. This included using unconventional ingredients in recipes like adding mayonnaise to chocolate cake and pinto beans to a pie filling. Substituting mashed cooked beans was a way to add creaminess (almost like the texture of pecan pie) without having to use a ton of expensive pecans.
In the 1970s bean pies were wildly popular by the followers of Elijah Muhammad or Black Muslims, as they had come to be known, due to the religion's outlook on navy beans. According to Islam law, people could not consume foods such as pork, spinach, sweet potatoes, and lima beans, however, navy beans were looked upon as practically holy in the eyes of their God. "How To Eat To Live:", published by the Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad in the 1960s, shares, "He [God] said that He could take one of our babies and start him off eating the dry small navy bean soup, and make that child live 240 years." Today the pies are found in Black households during the holiday season.
How To Make Pinto Bean Pie
Start off with an unbaked pie crust or pie shell and preheat your oven to 350F. Sprinkle the cornmeal on the bottom of the unbaked pie shell and set aside while you prepare the filling in a large bowl.
To your bowl, add the eggs, 1/2 cup margarine or butter, 1 cup sugar, brown sugar, a teaspoon vanilla extract, nutmeg, and 1/2 cup pinto beans which have been drained and slightly mashed. Pour the filling into the crust and top with pecans and bake until golden brown and the center of the pie is almost set.
This pie, just like apple pie, is best served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
Pinto Bean Pie
- 1 9-inch unbaked pie crust
- 1 tsp cornmeal
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup pinto beans drained and slightly mashed
- 1/2 cup pecan, halves
- Preheat oven to 350ºF. Sprinkle cornmeal in unbaked pie shell.
- In a large bowl combine the eggs, sugars, butter, nutmeg, vanilla extract, and pinto beans. Pour filling into pie crust and top with pecans. Bake 60 minutes, or until filling is slightly set. Serve warm.