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Monday, March 14, 2011

Sawdust Pie

When I was kid back in South Carolina we lived out "in the country" as Mama termed it. In reality even if you lived in the "city" which was a very small town you were still in rural South Carolina. Regardless, Mama liked living "in the country."

There were a group of us kids who spent our free time together: Me, Sharon, Darvin, Wanda, Jeff, and Susan. There were others around who sort of came and went over time but this was the core group for our little neighborhood. We spent our Saturdays and Summers roaming the dirt roads and woods near our houses - often to well after dusk. One of the places that seemed a little mysterious was the "Sawdust Pile." Located at the end of a dead end dirt road, this was a huge mound of sawdust towering a couple stories high. Our families would sometimes go down and get sawdust to use in flower beds or landscaping and we'd happily tag along so we could climb this huge mound and slide down the sides. It was our own little mountain in the woods. We were always cautioned to be careful in case there were voids in the pile because we might "fall in." This added a great degree of danger in our minds and really made the Sawdust Pile a place of great childhood interest.

I really don't know why that pile of sawdust was there in the middle of the woods. I suppose at some point a local logging company was harvesting pine in the area (a big industry in the area of South Carolina where I grew up) and left behind the pile when they finished. But we reveled in this mysterious soft mountain of sawdust that was hidden in the woods.

I couldn't help but think about the Sawdust Pile when I made this pie today. One of Sugar Pies' fans on Facebook, Mary Reynolds Levee, suggested we post a recipe for this and we were happy to oblige. Obviously, the name comes from the fact that the finished pie does look a bit like compacted sawdust. But I can assure you it's a lot tastier than a mouth of sawdust (and here I speak from experience).

Featuring coconut, pecans, and graham cracker crumbs the taste is a real treat. Sweet and tasty like any coconut pie but with a lovely texture unlike more custard type pies. It's a snap to make with a just a handful of ingredients and using a refrigerated crust means you can have it ready for the table in no time. This is great served warm with a dollop of whipped cream and even a little fruit (bananas and strawberries make great choices).

You'd think looking at the ingredients that this should be some traditional Southern dessert. After all, coconut and pecans screams Southern Christmas dessert. But, it appears that this popped up in the 1980's after being served at a restaurant in Kentucky. Possibly, this was some inventive cook's take on the Japanese Fruitcake which bears a striking resemblance with its coconut filling and meringue type binder. Regardless, after being mentioned in Bon Apetit, it caught on and spread like wildfire, becoming wildly popular by the 1990's.

There are a number of versions of this pie out there but most stick fairly close to the basics of egg whites, graham cracker crumbs, pecans, coconut, and sugar. I have seen a few versions when researching the history and variations that strangely left out the eggs and bulked it up with flour and even canned fruit. But, I think this version with eggs doing the work of binding the ingredients really is tops. In fact, after finishing his test piece Michael gave this one "6 Gazillion Stars" out of "5 Gazillion." Pretty good, considering he's not much of a fan of coconut!

Recipe: Sawdust Pie


  • 7 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup sweetened, shredded coconut
  • 1 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1 9-inch pie crust, unbaked


  1. In large bowl, mix together egg whites and sugar. Add coconut, pecans, salt and graham cracker crumbs and stir with spoon or spatula until combined.
  2. Place mixture in unbaked pie shell and bake at 325 for 30-35 minutes until pie is set and no longer jiggles with liquid when lightly shaken. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.
  3. Serve slightly warm with some sweetened whipped cream and fruit (optional).
Total time: 45 min
Number of servings (yield): 8
Meal type: dessert
Culinary tradition: USA (Southern)

Copyright © Buck Bannister and Sugar Pies.
Recipe adapted by Buck Bannister.

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