Sugar Cream Pie - Gastro Obscura


Sugar Cream Pie

Indiana's unofficial state pie was once a desperate measure.

When life hands you desperation, make desperation pie. Before sugar cream pie became Indiana’s unofficial state pie, it was a palatable answer to hard times.

The earliest known recipe dates back to 1816, the same year Indiana became a state. But as with any recipe, families were making “desperation pie” long before it ended up in print. Many attribute its spread in popularity to the presence of Shaker (a small Christian sect from England) and Amish communities in Indiana during the 18th and 19th centuries. Thanks to the pie’s lack of seasonal ingredients, anyone could combine sugar, cream, vanilla, nutmeg, salt, and flour throughout the year. A true sugar cream filling didn’t even call for eggs. The dish, which fed a sizable group and could sit out without spoiling, became common at church gatherings and farm plowings—akin to Amish funeral pie.

Though it was already beloved in select communities, sugar cream truly began its rise to the top in 1944. That’s when Duane Wickersham opened a restaurant in Randolph County, Indiana, and started baking around 20 pies per day. Over the next decade, demand quadrupled. In 1962, Wickersham patented the recipe and opened a factory. Today, “Wick’s” makes 10,000 pies per eight-hour shift, and 75 percent of them are sugar creams. In 2009, Indiana locals—known as Hoosiers—pushed to make the pie their state’s dessert, but the proposal never reached the governor’s desk. Whether or not the designation is official, no one would dispute that sugar cream pie is a distinctly Hoosier treat.

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