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SUMMER / FALL 2019      © 2021 812 Magazine

Sugar Cream Pie

How one simple pie became No. 1 in Hoosiers’ hearts

Indiana is known for many things, from Lincoln’s boyhood home, to the legacy of Peyton Manning, to state fairs and NASCAR. But tucked away in a little recipe book in the Indiana Historical Society lies the secret to what makes part of Indiana’s history so rich: sugar cream pie. 

This pie, sometimes known as “Desperation Pie” because of its few and cheap ingredients, decorates many a table for important occasions such as “church pitch-ins,” birthdays, and Thanksgivings. Its legacy began in the early 1800s, and has continued to be a staple even centuries later. 

So what makes this lowly pie such an integral part of growing up in Indiana? 

The people of Indiana have not always fallen on easy times. Much like the rest of the midwest, during the 1800s when money was sparse and resources were dried up, Hoosiers needed an easy sweet treat. Some say it originated in the Amish communities of the state. Whoever developed it, the pie was created during the off season, when the apples and fall berries were all used up for the season. This pie is straightforward, with traditional recipes requiring no eggs that it should be mixed with the fingers.

Sugar cream pie would hardly get an honorable mention in a state fair contest. There are no juicy fruits, or oozing jams pouring out from the cracks. This pie does not need all that attention: it lets its rich, creamy interior do the speaking for itself. This “Finger Pie” so beloved by Hoosiers almost became enshrined by the state legislature. In 2009, a bill to rename it the official Hoosier Pie surfaced, but unfortunately did not pass.

Regardless of the official recognition, any traditional Hoosier will tell you that their beloved pie is recognized in their own hearts as Hoosier property, no matter how state legislator votes. 

If you are looking for a quick and easy way to tackle the sugar cream pie in your own home, southern chef Paula Deen has a recipe to get you started.


2 tablespoons cut into small pieces butter
3/4 cup milk
1/2 pint (1 cup) whipping cream
1/2 cup unsifted all purpose flour
1 1/3 cups sugar
pinch nutmeg
1 (9 inch) unbaked pie shell


Preheat oven to 450° F.

Combine sugar, flour, cream and milk in a mixing bowl. Pour into pie shell. Dot butter bits all around top of pie. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Bake for approximately 10 minutes, and then reduce the heat to 350° F and cook for approximately 30 more minutes. Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate until chilled. Serve chilled.

Cook’s Note: If using a glass baking dish, lower oven temperature by 25 °F.