Both are quintessentially Indianian and part of the enduring legacy of the Hoosier State’s famous and practically-official Pie of the Hoosier State.
It’s also called Hoosier Pie. Or Finger Pie. Or Sugar Cream. Or Hoosier Sugar Cream Finger Pie to keep everyone pleased. Every way, it sweet. And wholesome and fresh – and creamy, not eggy. Milky yes, but never eggy.
Last year, the Indy 500, the most famous annual car race in the country, celebrated its centennial, still held on the grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, although it was actually balloon races that began there, in 1909.
Along with the massive silver trophy awarded each year’s winner, however, is the far more modest yet no less symbolic bottle of milk that’s been part of the Indy 50o tradition.
It started in 1933, after that year’s winner Louis Meyer asked for a glass of buttermilk when he finished.
By the time he won for the third time, in 1936, and asked for another glass, race officials were ready not with a glass but a full bottle – and not with buttermilk but regular milk.
The photo of his drinking dairy hit the papers and one local dairyman made hay while the sun shined and began marketing his stuff by providing each year’s winner with a bottle of milk.
Modern times and slimmer figures widened the winner’s choice of two-percent, skim or whole. But for traditionalists, it could only be chilled, thick, rich whole fresh milk.
Which proves to be the key ingredient in the most popular pie of Indiana, even before the sugar of the Sugar Cream Finger Pie.
The origins of the Hoosier Sugar Cream Finger Pie have been attributed to either the Shakers or the Quakers, who both settled in Indiana. However, the Shaker community was there from only 1820 to 1827. And with celibacy as its primary tenet, there weren’t a whole lot of little Shakers flailing for some of that sweet pie.
Beginning with an initial migration two years earlier to Wayne County, Indiana, the first meeting house was established by 1808 and within four years there was nearly 1,000 who migrated from North Carolina to a settlement near Salem, with another in Orange County.
By the end of the War of 1812, it was a rapid migration with Quakers settling in Morgan, Jackson, Randolph, Henry, Marion, Boone, Hendricks, Hamilton and Parke counties, on the Wabash River, in the Whitewater Valley and along the White River. The sect’s Yearly Meeting was held in a mammoth house, some 100 by 60 feet long, in Richmond. Recognizable by their dark-colored clothes and plain designs, by the rules of their faith, they lived simply and plainly in an essentially rural lifestyle, keeping clear of liquor and lawyers (they were forbidden from instituting or participating in law suits which required making oaths on testimony).
What may be the missing link which ties the Indiana Quakers to Hoosier Sugar Cream Finger Pie is the fact that, part of their faith also vehemently disavowed slavery and the Free Labor Advocate, an influential Quaker newspaper begun in Newport, Indiana declared that all Quakers must discontinue using or purchasing any foods, be it dairy or produce or meats, which had been cultivated, raised or harvested by the hands of those people working as slaves.
While the unusual lack of any egg being used in the Hoosier Sugar Cream Finger Pie might be attributed to a lack of money to buy eggs may explain how a few families stopped using eggs in their pies but it doesn’t explain how an entire state would, nor does it answer a question about how they could otherwise afford the more costly sugar.
Cows may not have been milked by slaves, nor flour milled by them, but it may be that, for a time, many of the eggs from chickens raised by slaves or that the eggs were sold at markets by them. It may also explain why the stronger anecdote of the pie’s origins is attributed to the Quakers over the Shakers.
So where does the finger come in?
Right into the pie actually, to stir it.
Traditionalists hold that the ingredients should be stirred right in the crust to make sure the cream of whole milk remains bubbling on top; to keep the crust from breaking up with a fork or other utensil, the finger was often used to do the mixing.
Nothing that a frozen pie crust, slightly thawed, wouldn’t help avoiding. Or, some versions suggest baking the pie crust and cooking the wet and dry ingredients on a stove top and then must pouring it into the baked shell and refrigerating it.
The whole pie is simple enough with very few ingredients, that one can find their own best way.
As long as Indy 500 whole milk or even heavy cream is used.
Indiana Hoosier Sugar Cream Finger Pie
1 8-inch pie crust
1 cup brown sugar mixed with white sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup rich whole creamed-top milk or heavy cream
Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit
Mix brown sugar and flour directly in prepared unbaked pie crust until flour disappears. Add the cream and mix with finger or wooden spoon. Bake for 45 minutes, then check to be certain the filling is bubbling but the crust edges are not burning. Bake for another 1 to 15 minutes if necessary. Remove and sprinkle heavily with cinnamon or nutmeg. Cool entirely before serving.