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Mission: Impossible Pie

By SHANNON WATKINS

shannon@southwesttimes.com

Because everything happens at the same time and on such days Murphy’s Law tends to double down, you will absolutely need at some point to have a pie ready for a later event—a funeral, a shower, a dinner party, a church potluck—and the time slot you can devote to it will be tricky, because you have to run about fifty scheduled errands that same day and none of them can wait.

You have to go to the doctor’s office to have that thing looked at and then be across town to pick up dry cleaning, then pivot to the hair dresser’s or the garage or the school, and somewhere in there is maybe a little over an hour you can devote to this stupid pie you’d promised someone you’d bring. You’re just too grindingly conscientious to buy one from the store, and you certainly don’t have the time to bake a cake, cool it, and then make some fiddly frosting for it, too, and try not to make a mess of things, and if you did then the pets/kids/roommates/beloved would get into it while you were away, and exactly what possessed you to promise someone a pie, again?

Then you yank open the freezer because contingent on this pie is the frozen crust–premade crust doesn’t count against an otherwise homemade pie, everybody knows that—and find that there isn’t one. The one you thought you had is either shattered, has freezerburn, or simply vanished.

The whole world grinds to a halt for about three seconds; then you start clawing through the freezer and cursing inventively because you don’t have time to go to the store, much less—

But you don’t need a ready crust. There’s a way around it. A pretty amazing one.

Most of us have a bag of coconut hanging around in the pantry or the fridge or the freezer; take a quick sniff and a nibble. Does it seem OK? Good, you’re mostly set. (If you don’t but this scenario doesn’t apply to you yet, toss a big bag of it in your cart next time you’re at the store and then hide it in the freezer because trust me, this day is coming.)

Impossible Coconut Pie

1 ½ cups sugar

½ cup all-purpose flour

Dash of salt

2 cups milk

½ cup butter, melted

3 eggs, beaten well

1 tsp. vanilla or almond extract

2 cups shredded coconut, sweetened or unsweetened

Get out your glass pie pan (you can use a tinfoil one but it won’t come out as good) and butter it (or spray it with Pam). Preheat your oven to 350F and set one rack in the bottom slot.

Whisk the flour, sugar and salt together. Add the milk, butter, vanilla and eggs and stir until everything is mixed. Stir in the coconut and pour into your pie pan. Slide into the oven (I usually stick it on a cookie sheet if I’m using tinfoil so the pan doesn’t buckle and send pie filling all over the kitchen floor) and bake for 35-45 minutes, until it’s firm, puffy, and golden brown. Pull it out and let it cool to room temperature while you dash out to finish your errands.

Once it reaches its destination and someone cuts into it, they will find that the flour has drifted to the bottom of the plate, making a crust out of itself like magic.

All well and good, you say, but what if you got stuck up there at the coconut, because you don’t have any and there’s not time to get more? Or what if someone who’s destined to eat this pie is allergic to coconut, where “allergic” equals anything from “anaphylactic shock” to “I just really hate coconut”?

Leave it out. Seriously. The magic trick works just as well without it. You’re left with a plain custard pie, which I’d recommend flavoring with about a half teaspoon or so of nutmeg (best with vanilla extract), or just sprinkle some on top.

The really nice thing is that at almost any event, someone will say dreamily, “You know, my grandma used to make a pie like this,” be it coconut or plain custard, and someone else will chime in, and then everybody will be chatting away about the good old days, and they’ll all turn to you with fond smiles, and you’ll smile back and think, “Oh, crap, did I remember to pick up the laundry detergent?”

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