Early editions of Joy of Cooking included something called a “Pinch Pie,” a straightforward baked meringue shell filled with ice cream and/or whipped cream and sweetened fresh summer fruit. Sure, it’s got some age on it, and it’s a delicious and unexpected summer dessert recipe as Tennessee strawberries peak and peaches are on the way.
We were introduced to Pinch Pie by the late Bernie Arnold, Nashville’s prolific food writer and editor, who chronicled Nashville foodways long before tattoos invaded the kitchen. Sadly, she passed away at 88 this past February. In four decades—from the mid 1960s through the early 1990s, first writing for the Tennessean and then as the long time food editor of the Nashville Banner, Bernie introduced Nashvillians to scores of talented home cooks, restaurants, food trends, new ingredients and seasonal recipes.
Bernie came to Nashville in the 1940s to study English and theater at Lipscomb University (where she met her future husband, Bud). Food writing was not among Bernie’s plans. She said, “I had four hungry kids and a husband who liked to invite people over for dinner. I didn’t have any choice but learn how to cook.” And attending extension service home demonstrations was a great excuse to get out of the house once in a while.
Bernie really took to cooking and she won second place in a state baking contest. Shortly afterwards an editor at the Tennessean and former Lipscomb classmate contacted her. They needed a food writer. Bernie wrote from her Green Hills home on a typewriter at the kitchen table with a view of the garden and the wall phone over her shoulder. Many a Sunday evening she’d be on deadline, driving like mad to deliver her copy for the week.
Known for her charm and playful sharp wit, Bernie once shared with us the unlikely beginning of her career as the food editor of the Banner. In 1974, while the family watched the local Sunday evening news, a report aired about a neighborhood gas leak and explosion. The Banner food editor at the time was the unfortunate victim. Bernie recalled her son looking up at her and saying, “I guess they’ll be calling you on Monday, Mom.” And they did. She stayed with the Nashville Banner until retirement in 1992.
No doubt Bernie would agree that Middle Tennesseans have long been guided by the seasons and the agricultural bounty of this area. Pinch Pie was one of her favorite summer desserts. Here’s our adaptation of the recipe.
- 4 egg whites, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1 cup sugar,
- Pinch of salt
- 1½ to 2 pints vanilla ice cream slightly softened
- 1 cup heavy cream, whipped and sweetened with a little powdered sugar
- 4 cups Tennessee strawberries or peeled and sliced peaches, sweetened to taste
- Heat the oven to 225°F. Beat the egg whites until foamy with an electric mixer.
- Add the vanilla and cream of tartar and continue to beat until fluffy.
- Add the powdered sugar by heaping spoonfuls and beat until the egg whites are stiff with glossy peaks.
- Place a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet. Draw a 9-inch circle on the paper and turn the paper over.
- Spread the mixture on the paper in the circle building up the sides slightly to create a nest.
- Bake about 1 hour and 15 minutes until firm and dry. Turn off the heat and allow the meringue to cool completely in the oven a few hours or overnight.
- Place the meringue on a platter or on a cake plate. Fill with the softened ice cream and/or sweetened whipped cream. Spoon the fruit on top.