Milk Pies are a classic example of the “waste not, want not” frugality of life in many old Pennsylvania Dutch and Coal Region homes.
This treat is known by many names depending on where you are from or what your Grandmother called it (grab a seat, this is going to take awhile..) There’s milk pie, milk flappy, milk floppy, milk flitche, milk flitcher, milk flitchie, poor man’s pie, bum pie, slop pie, shlop boi, slap pie, slappy pie, slap jack, belly pincher, belly grabber…oh, my, now I need a seat!
Pleasing kids for generations
Milk pies are a very old Pennsylvania Dutch creation that originated as a treat for children . Often made in individual-serving pie tins, they were created to use up the trimmings of left-over pie crust from the “good pies” the cook was making (see there’s that “waste not, want not again…) The very basic ingredients for the filling were inexpensive and almost always in the pantry; flour, milk, sugar and butter.
Depending on the ratio of flour to sugar to milk, the filling can be very runny (guess where the moniker of “slop pie” came from) or more firm, like a soft custard. But the filling is not a traditional custard because it contains no eggs.
A follower of my blog wrote and said he remembered this pie his grandmother made for him. Sadly, she took her recipe to the grave with her and no one he asked seemed to know what dish he meant. I promised to send him the recipe I had in my files from my Nana, but his request started me thinking a lot about these pies.
Memories of my Nana
My Nana (grandmother) always made individual-sized pies, likely because traditionally they were invented to use up left-over pie crust scraps and that would naturally entail a small amount of pastry dough. I never remember these as full-size in our home.
The little pie or pies went in the oven after the “good pies” came out. Nana used to take a little flour and sugar, toss that in the crust, pour on some milk, dollop with a pat of butter and sprinkle the top with either cinnamon or nutmeg, whichever was handy.
It was all in her head
She never wrote down a formal recipe, the entire process was on-the-fly and no two were ever exactly alike but that never mattered to me!
Over the years, after some really bad milk pie fails of my own, I settled on a particular ratio of ingredients to each other and make the individual versions when the urge strikes. I don’t bake pies nearly as often as I used to so these little treats are not around very often.
More beloved than I realized
The request for the recipe for milk pies got me curious as to how many people remembered these or even knew about them. A bit of asking around between family and friends yielded the answer — a lot!
In listening to the memories people shared, it became clearer and clearer these little pies, no matter what you call them, had much in common yet all differed in some way by every cook.
The personal touch
Milk pie sizes can run from tiny to traditional full-sized pies. My Nana even made one in an upside-down canning jar lid when the pie crust trimmings were really scarce (probably because I had spent an hour or more staring at her with huge, hopeful, pleading eyes as she worked so she did not want to disappoint me).
The depth of the layer of filling can be really thin or fairly thick. Although ingredients vary from cook to cook and day to day, all contain sugar, flour, and milk. The sugar may be white or brown, the liquid might be milk, evaporated milk, or cream. To sprinkle with spice or leave it off is also variable.
Some cooks add a drizzle of molasses or corn syrup to the filling, some dot the top of the pies with a pat of butter, some do not. Some recipes are very sweet, some separate into layers of filling when baked.
A finger in the pie
Yet one very consistent trait stands out among everyone I spoke to and that is the overwhelming number of cooks who sprinkled the flour and sugar into the unbaked crust, added the milk or cream and then stirred the mix together with their finger — right in the crust! My Nana did; it was so cool. I never asked why. I thought she came up with the idea.
I suspect using a finger rather than a spoon helps to avoid tearing the crust, but that’s just a guess on my part. I came across a cook or two who mixed the flour, sugar, and milk together in a bowl before filling the crust (what fun is that?), but they were rarer than a “Dutchie” who doesn’t like scrapple.
Some cooks do not use the old trusty finger-stir at all, they simply sprinkle blended flour and sugar into the crust then drizzle the milk or cream over the top without stirring it in, a method that usually results in a pie with a layered effect.
Watch and learn
When asked for a recipe, most people responded with, “Hmmm, well, Nana (or Mom or whoever) never really wrote anything down, I just make them like I remember her doing it.” Consensus is generations taught each other by just watching and doing.
Since this was a treat put together to avoid wasting any precious morsel of food in families where things were tough, improvising was common, measurements were “eye-balled”, and often each pie was a little different than the previous one.
I actually did gather some written recipes and some day will work my way through them. For now, I use what I believe to be like my Nana’s.
Thanks for the memories
If you decide to give my version a try, keep in mind the wide range of variations among cooks and their milk pies. This one might be just like you remember eating in your Nana’s kitchen or it might be miles away from even resembling the milk pie you hold dear in your memories.
Look at it as a starting point. Even if it’s not the version you remember, I have done my job if just reading this brings back good memories for you!
This recipe makes a traditional individual-sized pie.
Pennsylvania Dutch Milk PieCourse: Desserts, SnacksCuisine: Pennsylvania Dutch, Coal RegionDifficulty: Easy
Makes a three inch individual tart sized right for snacking. Made by cooks for children using left-over pie dough scraps from “the good pies” they were baking.
Scraps of crust from your favorite crust recipe
2 Tablespoons flour
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup whole milk
2 to 3 thin slices butter
- Mix together flour and sugar with fingers or whisk in small bowl to remove lumps. Sprinkle into crust. Drizzle with milk. Stir with finger to mix. Top with butter. Sprinkle with cinnamon.
- Bake at 350F degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. Center should be “jiggly”