How the pie started
Recently, I made my first red velvet cake from scratch for my husband of nearly 19 years. Red velvet cake is his favorite. We’ve bought so many of them over the years that I really had no idea what a homemade red velvet cake would taste like. He asked for a homemade cake and that is what he got. Quite happily.
It turned out very well and I fell in love with the process and idea of making cake. But pie is more a part of my family tradition—and it is the subject of my cookbook, even though it’s Mrs. Rowe’s pie, not my own. As it happens, red velvet is such a Southern tradition that it’s also in my newest book—Scrapbook of Secrets, which is set in a Southern town and centers on a group of Southern scrapbooking women.
So back to making the cake. As I found myself loving the experience of baking the cake, I also felt a little like a traitor to pie. But I learned a lot about the cake by making it from scratch. It’s not a simple chocolate cake—as some have suggested to me. It’s really a buttermilk-cocoa cake. I’m no fan of sipping buttermilk—but it adds a depth of flavor and tang to cooking and baking that’s hard to beat. As I mixed the ingredients, I thought of Mrs. Rowe’s Buttermilk Pie. How easy would it be to make it into a “Red Velvet pie?” Quite easy, as it turns out. I just added cocoa and food coloring to an otherwise perfect buttermilk pie recipe.
The versatile pie
The pie gets a thin cake-like skin on it as it cools, which is lovely for topping purposes. It would work with a number of toppings. This recipe is a perfect example of how versatile pie is—once you have a good recipe that works, it’s fun and easy to experiment with it. I call this pie my “Red Velvet Lovey-Dovey Pie” because I’m honoring my husband’s Southern traditions and tastes while also acknowledging my own pie-loving Yankee family and traditions.
Makes 1 9-inch pie
1 pie crust
1 cup unsalted butter, melted, slightly cooled
1 cup sugar
½ cup all purpose flour
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 heaping teaspoon of cocoa
1 ounce of red food coloring
Preheat oven to 325. Line a 9-inch pie plate with dough and crimp the edges.
In a bowl, combine the butter, sugar, and flour, and stir well. One at a time, add the eggs. Mixing well after each addition. Add the buttermilk and vanilla and stir well. Next, add the cocoa and stir into filling. Last, stir in the food coloring. Red, isn’t it?
Pour the batter into the pie crust.
The original buttermilk pie recipe called for baking for 25 to 35 minutes, until a thin knife inserted into the center comes out clean. But it took 45 minutes in my oven for in to get thick. When you insert the knife, there will be a little filling on it—but it continues to firm up as it cools.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes, until the filling firms up. Serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled.
Please note: this is a very rich and sweet pie. You can cut the sugar back and it will still be flavorful.
About Scrapbook of Secrets, cookbooks, and novels
What compelled you to write this story? This idea came to me, actually, when I was going to a lot of scrapbooking events and was blown away by the generosity and quick friendships of other scrapbookers. None of us had the time to commit that the women in my book do—and I always thought it would be great if we did. About that same time, I read “The Secret Life of Bees” and was enamored with it. I wanted to write a story like it about the power of women’s friendships. I also wanted to take a look at the darker side of that—what isolation and secrets can do to people. So when National Novel Writing Month came around a few years ago, I decided to dip my toes in and go for it.
Why scrapbooking? Not only is it one of the most popular hobbies in the US, but it also has a deeper meaning. On one level, of course, it is just about cutesy stuff and preserving memories of your kids and so on. But, what these women and men do is preserve personal history. Many times they journal along with place pictures in books and I often think about how cool it would have been for someone to have chronicled my grandmother’s life, for example, when she was growing up. Also, some people are really taking it to an art form, as well as using it for self-reflection. The social aspect to scrapbooking is also fascinating—crops, conferences, contests, and so on. It’s a subculture. I also think it’s perfect for mysteries—it has this great puzzle and story quality to it.
You are a cookbook writer and food writer, why write fiction now? When I think back to my childhood writing, it was always fiction and poetry. But life came along and I needed to earn a living so I worked as a nonfiction writer and an editor. It’s always been a dream of mine to have a novel published. I wrote many unfinished novels over the years and finished one in high school. And I think there are a lot of writers like me who would like to crossover—one way or the other. And all of my writing is about story, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction.
Has writing fiction been different from nonfiction? In some ways, yes. In some ways, no. With the cookbooks, for example, there was a lot of coordinating between the restaurant, tester and myself in the creation of the books. With writing fiction, it’s just me, which I found kind of freeing and at the same time a little scary. In writing both fiction and nonfiction, you simply have to sit at the computer and get it done. In this regard, I think my nonfiction writing habits influence my fiction. I’m very practical about my writing and don’t wait for the muse to descend.
Will you ever write another cookbook? I never say never. But I am enjoying writing fiction and plan to put most of my efforts into it. There is only so much time in a day, especially when you have a family and a full life.
Why does food figure so prominently in your novels? The simple answer is nobody can write about a group of Southern women without bringing food into the story. The somewhat more complicated answer is food is a great metaphor for life and the stories that make up a life are often punctuated with food. So using food in a story tells the reader a lot about the characters and the setting.
What else do you spend time on? I have very little free time because I’m the mom of two active little girls who have cello lessons, dance lessons and play practices, so I am often in my mini-van carpooling children. But I try to start each day with a run or a walk and have become quite the addict. I’m an avid reader and cook, as well. I love to scrapbook, of course, and get together with my friends and family. I try to write only when my girls are in school so that when they get home, I help with homework or just spend time with them.
Are you working on any scrapbooking projects? I’m always working on something. Right now, I’m trying to catch up on a few of my holiday books—both Halloween and Christmas. I’m also working on getting materials together for a recipe scrapbooking class, which I’ll offer at stores and conferences, as well as on-line at some point.
Do you have any favorite mystery authors? I’m a big Sherlock Holmes fan, so Sir Author Conan Doyle is right at the top of my list. Right now, I’m reading my second Louise Penny novel and I want to read them all! Also, one of my favorites is Elizabeth Peter’s “Peabody” series. (I want to read all of her work, too!)
What’s next for you? Currently I am working on book three of the Cumberland Creek trilogy. Book two, Scrapbook of Shadows, has been turned in to the publisher. The first few months of 2012 will be filled with promotion—guest blogs, book signings, and speaking engagements.
About the book, Scrapbook of Secrets
Having traded in her career as a successful investigative journalist for the life of a stay-at-home mum in picturesque Cumberland Creek, Virginia, Annie can’t help but feel that something’s missing. But she finds solace in a local “crop circle” of scrapbookers united by chore-shy husbands, demanding children, and occasional fantasies of their former single lives. And when the quiet idyll of their small town is shattered by a young mother’s suicide, they band together to find out what went wrong…Annie resurrects her reporting skills and discovers that Maggie Rae was a closet scrapbooker who left behind more than a few secrets – and perhaps a few enemies. As they sift through Maggie Rae’s mysteriously discarded scrapbooks, Annie and her “crop” sisters begin to suspect that her suicide may have been murder. It seems that something sinister is lurking beneath the town’s beguilingly calm facade – like a killer with unfinished business…
Mollie Cox Bryan is a food writer and cookbook author with a penchant for murder. Her stories have many forms: cookbooks, articles, essays, poetry and fiction. Mollie grew up near Pittsburgh, Pa., and attended Point Park University, where she received a B.A. in Journalism and Communications. Her first real job out of college was as a paste-up artist at a small newspaper, where she was allowed to write “on her own time” and she did.
Mollie moved to the Washington, D.C. area, where she held a number of writing jobs, and has written about a diverse array of subjects, such as construction, mathematics education, and life insurance. While working in the editorial field, Mollie began taking poetry classes at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Md. Soon, she was leading local poetry workshops and was selected to participate in the prestigious Jenny McKean Moore Poetry Workshop. Mollie still writes poetry— not as frequently— and believes that her study of poetry informs all of her writing.
In 1999, shortly after the birth of her first daughter, Emma, Mollie and her husband moved to the Shenandoah Valley of Va., where he took a job at the Frontier Culture Museum and she stayed at home to take care of Emma and start a freelancing career.
Currently, Mollie is a restaurant reviewer for the Daily News Leader, Staunton, Va., and a frequent contributor for the local NPR-affiliate, WVTF.