Deconstructing the Dish: Pinch Pie

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 summer fruit. Sure it’s got some age on it, but it’s a delicious and unexpected summer dessert recipe just in time for the peak of Tennessee strawberries and the arrival of fresh peaches.

Bernie Arnold, Nashville’s prolific food writer and editor, introduced us to Pinch Pie. Sadly, she passed away this past February at the age of 88. Over the course of four decades, from the mid-1960s through the early ’90s, Bernie introduced Nashvillians to scores of talented home cooks, restaurants, food trends, new ingredients and seasonal recipes as a writer for the Tennessean and the longtime food editor of the Nashville Banner. Bernie came to Nashville in the 1940s to study English and theater at Lipscomb University, where she met her 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 [to] learn how to cook.”

Bernie really took to cooking and even won second place in a statewide baking contest. Shortly after, 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 and driving like mad to deliver her copy for the week.

Known for her charm and sharp wit, Bernie once shared with us the unlikely beginning of her career as the food editor of the Nashville Banner. One Sunday in 1974, while the family watched the local evening news, a report aired about a neighborhood gas leak and explosion. The Banner’s food editor 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 her retirement in 1992.

No doubt Bernie would agree that Middle Tennesseans have long been guided by the seasons and the agricultural bounty of the area. Pinch Pie was one of her favorite summer desserts. Here’s our adaptation of the recipe.


>> Pinch Pie

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 local strawberries or peeled and sliced peaches, sweetened to taste

Heat the oven to 225°F. Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until foamy. Add the vanilla and cream of tartar and continue to beat until fluffy. Add the sugar by heaping spoonful and beat until the egg whites are stiff with glossy peaks. Place a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet. Draw a nine-inch circle on the paper and turn the paper over. Spread the mixture in the circle on the paper, building up the sides slightly to create a nest. Bake about one hour and 15 minutes until firm and dry. Turn off the heat and allow the meringue to cool completely in the oven for 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. Makes eight generous servings.