The Herald Bulletin

January 21, 2009

Sugar cream pie: Baked for Hoosier greatness

By Amanda Junk

For The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON — Hoosier cream pie, old-fashioned cream pie, desperation pie: No matter what you call it — or how you slice it — sugar cream pie is a favorite across the state.

And thanks to a proposal by a group of Ball State students and the Indiana Foodways Alliance, it’s about to become official.

A resolution adopting the dessert as Indiana’s official state pie is expected Friday — National Pie Day — and would make Indiana the third state to have an official pie, according to the American Pie Council.

Indiana Foodways Alliance Executive Director Susan Haller hopes the resolution will bring national recognition to keep food jobs in Indiana. The effort is also a step toward branding the state as a culinary tourist attraction, she said.

“We make wonderful food in Indiana as part of the breadbasket. A lot of times with these fun things (pie) people notice and then purchase them,” she said.

Designs on food

Wesley Jeffers of Anderson is a big fan of Hoosier foods. But the northern Indiana native never gave much thought to sugar cream pies until he started work on the Indiana Foodways Alliance Web site as part of a Ball State Business Fellows project in fall 2007.

He knew his mother, who on occasion bakes the pie, had a recipe for it and he knew he enjoyed eating it, he said, but as a Business Fellow he learned more than a few crumbs of historical and geographic information about what is soon to become the state’s official pie.

“I knew it was mostly rich and sweet, but from working on the project I learned sugar cream pies are not too prevalent beyond the borders of Indiana,” Jeffers said.

Jeffers said another perk of working on the project was partaking in crumbs of the edible variety. He remembers several meetings that involved taste-testing sugar cream pie and other Hoosier food staples including persimmons, pork, peppermint and popcorn.

Jeffers worked on designing graphics for the IFA Web site until spring 2008. While he wasn’t directly involved in drafting the proposal to make the Hoosier pie’s name an official one, he said it’s one he supports.

“It’s something that’s truly a signature to the state and this just reminds people to try it while they’re here,” he said.

Indiana Foodways Alliance is a nonprofit organization started in 2007 and has offices in Anderson. Haller said its goal of identifying, preserving and promoting Indiana’s food culture is important for the economic development of small towns across the state.

The Indiana Foodways Alliance is the first membership-based association of its kind in Indiana dedicated to the development and promotion of the local food culture of Indiana and small businesses from field to table, Haller said.

“[IFA] was formed to help bring people into rural areas by directing them to the best locally owned culinary sites, and quite a few serve sugar cream pie,” she said.

Sugar cream pie was created between 1810 and 1825 by the North Carolina Quakers who settled in farms along the eastern border of Indiana, especially near Winchester, Richmond, Portland and New Castle.

“Sugar cream pie is uniquely an Indiana food and something the state does very well — it’s only made here except when exported from Winchester,” Haller said.

Home to pies

Wick’s Pies, in Winchester, has helped make the sugar cream pie famous by producing pies from a Wickersham family recipe that dates back to the family’s 19th century farm. The resolution would make Winchester — a town of around 5,000 people — the sugar cream pie capital.

Wick’s owner, Mike Wickersham, said his business made 16 million units of pies and pie shells last year and distributes to 40 states either indirectly or directly. Sugar cream sells at a 2-to-1 ratio, he said.

In Madison County, Wick’s sells to major retail bakeries including Wal-Mart, Kroger, Marsh and PayLess.

The Senate resolution was introduced by Republican Allen Paul, whose district takes in Randolph County, home of Wick’s.

For Wickersham, the resolution gives his town an opportunity to continue efforts to become a destination location. While some say the resolution may be a silly one, Wickersham disagrees.

“I wasn’t around when they made the state bird, but for me, it promotes Indiana food and a product sold not only in Indiana but in other states,” he said. “It’s not a complicated issue, not a lot of time-consuming issue. But it does bring a good taste to your mouth.”

The proposed state resolution defines sugar cream pie as “simply a pie shell spread with layers of creamed butter and maple or brown sugar combined with a sprinkling of flour, filled with vanilla-flavored cream and baked,” but area bakeries have their own variations.

In north Anderson, Zinszer’s Bakery, 2245 Broadway, makes pies from scratch on order and had one order for a sugar cream at Christmas.

“We don’t get enough orders to keep them fresh,” owner Judy Zinszer said.

Nonetheless, sugar cream is one of Zinszer’s personal favorites. She supports the proposed resolution because it promotes a dessert otherwise unknown in other areas of the country, she said.

“My daughter lives in Atlanta and you just don’t hear of them down there,” Zinszer said.

Zinszer said she would consider carrying sugar cream on a long-term basis after the resolution is passed. The bakery also serves coconut cream, banana, butterscotch, key lime and chocolate cream pies.

Concannons in Muncie also serves old-fashioned cream pie, which is a bit sweeter than other cream-based pies, manager Cindi Herrold said.

The bakery makes pies in-house with sugar, milk, corn starch and half and half. While she hasn’t seen a huge demand for the sugar cream variety, Herrold hopes the state resolution would increase sales but foresees customers still ordering their favorite flavors.