At some point in the 1960s, a gaunt farm wife used to drive around Saginaw, Michigan in a rattletrap station wagon with her developmentally challenged daughter in the front seat next to her and deliver eggs and pies to people like the grandmother of Patty Pinner, author of the cookbook Sweety Pies. According to Pinner's grandmother, the so-called "Egg Lady" was married to "one of those kinds of husbands who leave the house and head for the corner store and you don't know whether they'll be back in six minutes or six months."
Pinner's grandmother was black and the Egg Lady was white, but unlike other white woman who visited the neighborhood in their fur coats, carrying themselves with the "poise of entitlement," the Egg Lady wore tattered housedresses. One day while the Egg Lady was transacting business with Pinner’s grandmother, her daughter got out of the car to play with Pinner. Unsettled by the girl's "slow, backward manner," Pinner refused to play with her, one of those trivial decisions you regret forever. All these decades later, Pinner wishes she could go back and apologize to the Egg Lady’s daughter. I have a few Egg Lady's daughters in my own past, shocking to say.
Anyway, that’s the gist of the 2-page headnote to the recipe for The Egg Lady’s oatmeal pie and it's a poignant standalone story with vivid characters, a glimpse of period race/class dynamics, a little drama, a moral, a conclusion. Headnotes like this are one reason I like Pinner's book so much. The Egg Lady's oatmeal pie is another. You wouldn't think that oatmeal could make an exquisite pie, but a lot of exquisite things have been made from very little -- Shaker chairs, Depression-era quilts, New Mexican tinwork -- and this pie is one of them. Three of us demolished all but one slice of the pie in about 20 minutes the other night, and the person who could least afford to finish it off the next morning did so. (For the record, I baked a half recipe in a 7-inch pan, so we weren't quite as piggish as that makes us sound.)
It's hard to describe this pie. It's a lot like chess pie -- with oats. Alternatively, try to imagine a very thin, pale pecan pie made with white sugar instead of brown, oats instead of nuts.
Or maybe just bake the pie and see for yourself. It could not be easier, cheaper, or better.
Egg Lady's oatmeal pie adapted from Patty Pinner's Sweety Pies.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and have ready an unbaked 9-inch pie crust. In a bowl, beat 2 large eggs, 1/4 cup melted unsalted butter, a pinch salt, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 2/3 cup sugar, 2/3 cup light corn syrup, and 2/3 cup old fashioned oats (not quick cooking.) Pour into crust. Bake for 35-45 minutes until the crust is golden and the filling fairly firm to the touch. Not too firm, though. You’re looking for a delicate crust over a tender jelly-like pudding, not a cookie. Cool. Serve at room temperature.