Not quite the beach, but quite the pie

Fresh whipped cream and coarse sea salt for garnish

Posted 8/28/20

The Curious Cook's take on an "Our State" recipe.

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Not quite the beach, but quite the pie

Fresh whipped cream and coarse sea salt for garnish

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Crook's Corner pie, a la Debbie Matthews.
Crook's Corner pie, a la Debbie Matthews.
Photo courtesy of Debbie Matthew

I have three favorite magazines.

I’ve been reading “Mad Magazine” since my big brother, Homer, introduced me to it when I was in the third grade. I love that they are unafraid to poke anyone and anything. They’re smart-alecky and funny. Sadly, they have recently ceased regular publication, but there are 66 whole years of back issues just waiting for me.

I discovered the British edition of “Cosmopolitan” when I worked for an independent bookstore close to 25 years ago. I love studying fashion from the UK. It has a decidedly “cheeky” attitude and point of view, and Europeans have a much more grownup view of the human body and its workings.

Each Christmas, I get a subscription for the coming year of “Our State” magazine. It’s lovely, and every word is well-written. Each issue is a clear-eyed celebration of North Carolina. I’ve learned more about my home state from that magazine than every history class I’ve ever taken.

And this week’s recipe comes from its pages.

Although this is a popular beach treat, this particular recipe comes from the late Bill Neal, an acclaimed Southen food expert and the founder and chef of Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill.

Petey and I visited his mom last week in Elizabeth City, and I usually make a dessert to take along. When we make the trip at Thanksgiving or Christmas, I bring my brown sugar pound cake. But to us, it has become a special holiday food, akin to egg nog or my mother’s frosted Christmas cookies.

I decided to make this pie because it’s been a million degrees around here, it’s even hotter in E. City, and citrus has a bright, summery vibe. I’ve also long been intrigued by the saltine pie crust, and love what the combination of Eagle Brand and citrus can do.

I packed it into an insulated bag with plenty of cold packs for the 3.5-hour trip. It was still cold when we arrived.

Everybody loved it, and the lemon-lime combo gave the filling a unique flavor that was distinct and different from the fruits on their own.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

Crook’s Corner Atlantic Beach Pie (from Our State magazine)

Yield: 1 pie.

  • 1 1/2 sleeves of saltine crackers
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup lemon or lime juice, or a mix of the two

Preheat oven to 350º. Crush the crackers finely, but not to dust. You can use a food processor or your hands. Add the sugar, then knead in the butter until the crumbs hold together like dough. Press into an 8-inch pie pan. Chill for 15 minutes, then bake for 18 minutes or until the crust colors a little.

While the crust is cooling (it doesn’t need to be cold), beat the egg yolks into the milk, then beat in the citrus juice. It is important to completely combine these ingredients. Pour into the shell and bake for 16 minutes until the filling has set. The pie needs to be completely cold to be sliced.

Serve with fresh whipped cream and a sprinkling of sea salt.

(Debbie here: what follows are tips I discovered when I actually made the pie at home.)

The crumbs I made (see photo), were a little large, and I used more than 1½ sleeves of them. I had to add more butter and still had trouble getting them to come together. So, crush them finer (around the size of a pencil eraser or smaller) and use the ½ cup of butter. Also, to bring out the saltiness of the crackers, use salt on top saltines, and sprinkle a pinch of kosher salt on top of the crust before its first bake.

I used 2 large lemons and 4 small limes to get ½ cup of juice. I think oranges and tangerines might be too sweet. But grapefruit would be nice. When in season, Meyer lemons would be tasty and not too sweet. Blood orange would be pretty and mixed with lemon or lime, not too sweet. Check the sweetness level of whatever juice you plan on using, and adjust accordingly.

When you take the pie out of the oven, do not touch the filling until it is completely cool — I didn’t follow my own advice and left a very noticeable depression right in the center of the pie. And do not cover with plastic wrap until it is fully chilled and set. I didn’t do this and pulled up most of the top, but it did totally mask the fingerprint.

As I cut pieces for service, there were saltine crumbs left in the pan. I gathered them and sprinkled on top of each slice as garnish. I took spray whipped cream to my mother-in-law’s, but at home, I’d make fresh whipped cream, with a 1 tablespoon of powdered sugar to each cup of heavy cream along with a small pinch of kosher salt and a splash of vanilla. I use an immersion blender and it takes about 30 seconds to come together.


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