The Struggle Was Real in the Angry Kitchen This Weekend

This weekend we celebrated my mom’s birthday, per tradition it was my job to provide dessert and Alan had volunteered to handle the rest of the meal.

At first everything seemed like it would be baking as scheduled, I’ve made the pie mom requested a couple of times, and while it can be time consuming, it’s not an inherently difficult recipe. We checked our home inventory and updated our shopping lists and headed to the store. Grocery shopping was uneventful, we were able to get everything we needed and only had to visit two stores (which is a small miracle, as planning to cook a family meal often requires visits to 5 more stores in town. The first hint that things were about to go off the rails was when we stopped at our local blueberry farm only to find out that the frost hit them harder than anticipated and they wouldn’t be open for business for another few weeks… I didn’t panic though, I was sure there was at least one bag of frozen berries in my fridge, even though I didn’t check it while doing the inventory because I was going to use fresh ones. We get home, load up the dog, and head to our favorite local winery to do a tasting of their sparkling wine flight. Pretty idyllic right? We thought so too.

We get home and decide it’s time to veg out on the couch, eat some leftovers and binge watch a show on Netflix… big mistake. Huge. The gentle buzz from the wine, and the carb coma did not make me want to get my bake on.  Now anyone who knows me in real life or has followed my blog knows that I usually enjoy baking, and that it’s been something that I’ve been doing since I was a teenager. So, I go to bed with no worries about a basic pie recipe and wake up to start working on the dessert.

As I walk down the hall and head for the kitchen, the first thing I notice is that Alan has taken over all the available space, which honestly isn’t hard to do. Our kitchen has extremely limited counter space and a four-burner stove. I didn’t let myself freak out though, I just got out a folding table, moved some furniture around in the living room and set up shop kitchen adjacent. As I was pulling my supplies and ingredients, I realized that the bag of blueberries that I knew I had… was only half a bag. I was going to have to go to the store again. Not a big deal, it was still early enough in the day, it would only be an hour (the nearest grocery store is about 15 minutes from our house) out of the schedule, I had all day, it would be fine.

Reader, it was not fine.

I get home and start making the custard for the pie, and I notice that it’s grainier than usual, like A LOT grainier than usual… but I keep moving along with the recipe because… well because what else was I going to do? I think that one it cools it might look different. I start making the chocolate part of the custard, and it will not come together. This stuff is chunky in a way that seems like I’m trying to mix oil and water because it will not combine. I look at the vanilla custard and it looks like a cross between tapioca pudding and old oatmeal. THIS IS NOT WHAT I EXPECTED nor is it going to be okay… then I tasted it. The flavor was so off, it was like I tried to mix Sour Patch Kids with chocolate pudding. At this point I realized that I only had one pie shell… and I couldn’t figure out a way to save it, and absolutely did not have the time to go back to the store. I started over.

See those specks on my spoon and the side of the pot? They shouldn’t be there, they won’t cook out.  If they show up while cooking your custard, toss it and start over. Please learn from my frustrations so you don’t have to live through it yourself.

I read over the recipe half a dozen times more and got back to work. I used a fresh carton of milk (the other one I used was not expired, but it had been open for a few days) and different eggs.  The difference was immediate.  It started to look familiar right from the start. Both custards came together, the meringue was bright white and fluffy, and the blueberry topping thickened up exactly the way it was supposed to.  I felt triumphant, but my victory lap may have been taken too soon.

This is how the custard should look.  It’s mostly smooth (those little lumps worked themselves out while mixing) and glossy, and most importantly doesn’t look like gruel served in a Dickens novel.

I had forgotten that the pie needs to cool for several hours before being served. It’s not mentioned in the copy of the recipe I have until the very end, and the way things were setting up I thought it would be perfect with only a couple of hours in the fridge before service.  I was wrong, and because of how wrong I was there are no photos of the pudding with Oreo crumbs that I served up with a blueberry pie filling and fresh whipped cream. The taste was there, it was exactly what it was supposed to be, however, the texture was not quite there yet.

I apologize for not having a photo of the finished product from this weekend, but because it didn’t have the time to set up it looked more like pudding than the pie it was supposed to be.  I do have a photo of the pie from a time where the stars aligned for me and it came out the way it was supposed to.

this was made with a frozen Pillsbury pie crust instead of a cookie crust. My favorite so far has been made with a graham cracker crust, it’s reminiscent of s’mores and is delightful with fresh strawberries and raspberries.

I learned a couple of valuable lessons for this recipe:

  1. Don’t give in to procrastination, even if you’d rather be glued to the couch watching Netflix
  2. Always use fresh milk
  3. Spring for the better-quality eggs if you can.
  4. Don’t be afraid to stop mid-recipe and start over, you might save some time and frustration, if it isn’t looking/tasting right and you don’t know how to fix it, don’t keep going. Take a deep breath and accept that it isn’t working.

Miss Shirley’s Black Bottom Pie (with notes from Lauren)

Give yourself enough time to let the finished product chill for at least 4 hours before serving, but overnight would be ideal. This is not an item that will work thrown together at the last minute.


  • 9-inch pie shell (you can use frozen pie crusts found in the freezer section of the grocery store or as I prefer graham cracker or Oreo pre-made crusts if you don’t want to make one from scratch)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of cornstarch
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons of unflavored gelatin (I usually use a full envelope of the stuff, which might be more than what is recommended, but it seems to work for me)
  • 3 tablespoons cold water
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons vanilla
  • 1-ounce unsweetened chocolate, melted
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/3 cup sugar


(if using a frozen pie shell bake to package directions and set aside to cool while working on the filling)

Stir together ½ cup sugar, cornstarch, and salt in saucepan.  Blend milk and egg yolks, then stir into sugar mixture.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, just until mixture boils.  Set aside one cup of the custard mixture.

Combine chocolate and the 1 cup of reserved custard mixture and pour into baked pie shell (or graham cracker/ Oreo shells). Put the partially filled pie shell in the fridge to cool

Mix the gelatin in cold water and let stand for one minute. Thoroughly mix the softened gelatin into the hot custard, then add the vanilla last. Put the gelatin-custard mixture in an ice bath and stir occasionally until the mixture mounds slightly when dropped from a spoon.

Beat egg whites with cream of tartar until foamy. Beat in 1/3 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. Continue beating until stiff and glossy.  DO NOT UNDERBEAT (use an electric mixer, I once tried to do this by hand and my wrist was sore for days after, it takes much longer than you think it should)!!! Stir in 1/3 of the meringue into the custard, then gently fold in the remaining 2/3 of the meringue into the custard. Spread over chocolate mixture.  Chill at least 4 hours or until set (again overnight seems to work best for me).

If desired garnish with whipped cream and sprinkle with shaved chocolate (I like to garnish with fruits and homemade whipped cream)

Lemon Blueberry Topping


  • 2 ½ tablespoons cornstarch
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen)
  • ½ cup water
  • Juice from 1 lemon

In a medium saucepan combine the sugar and cornstarch.

Add in the rest of the ingredients and cook over medium heat.  Stir frequently until the mixture is thick.

Remove from heat and cool.

I’ve used this as a topping for the Black Bottom Pie as well as a filling/decoration for a lemon cake. It’s always a crowd pleaser and is incredibly simple to make.  I’m sure it would be delicious over ice cream as a sundae treat too. I’m drooling at all the possibilities for this topping, I bet it would be a show stopper over waffles at brunch, or on a cheesecake.

this can last up to a week as long as it is refrigerated in an airtight container like a Mason jar

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