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May 08, 2022- Happy Mother’s Day! Dear Kids– This post started out as a straight forward, Mother’s Day retro recipe from your GrandMother to celebrate her and all the amazing mom’s (including yours, of course) we know, but then it turned into something more as I rifled through GM’s recipe box, in search of her recipe for “Butterscotch Bliss”- a concoction featuring convenient, mass produced grocery store items straight from the 50’s that somehow makes the most amazing dessert casserole one could imagine.
You see, the surprise for me, in addition to still wondering how something so “bad”- instant pudding and Cool Whip– could taste so good, was the profound impact the family recipe box- a disorganized collection of handwritten, food fancy print or plain index cards mixed in with a variety of cut out or ripped out newspaper or magazine recipes and photocopied full page recipes folded into fourths- had on me and the slight sadness I felt in realizing how such a family and national treasure is sure to become extinct in this electronic age- I mean do you kids even know what my handwriting looks like (not like this, that’s for sure)?
What got me was all the good thoughts, stories and feelings that came in the box as I went through it with GM. So much appreciation for the interesting and often funny tales of the family and friends responsible for some of the recipes and whose names appeared at the top of those recipe cards; for the intricate notes and/or diagrams written on some recipes, as those recipes were worked through and adjusted over the years; for the time taken to meticulously write down an entire recipe without the ease of cut and paste; and for the warmth and connection from seeing the familiar handwriting of GM, your Mom and especially my Mom and your other grandmother, whose recipe for “Pineapple Surprise” was in GM’s collection!
Best of all, was the big smile GM, Mom and I had on our faces as we read this little recipe card below for a happy Mother’s Day to GM from your Mom, who must have been in 2nd or 3rd grade when she wrote it, based on the handwriting (Mom pretty much still draws the same, so that didn’t help with the timeline). The Recipe Box is so much more than the food it’s meant to celebrate.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
GET YOUR STUFF OUT
- 7 ½ ounces (1 ½ cups for the barbarians) all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 cups chopped pecans
- 4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 4.5 ounces (1 cup) powdered sugar
- 8-16 ounces frozen whipped topping, thawed, mixed use (“mixed use” means the ingredient is used at more than one point in the recipe, if you were wondering)
- 3-4 cups cow milk (If plant or low/no fat milk is preferred, check pudding box instructions to see if that type of milk allows pudding to set properly)
- 7 ounces (2 small boxes) instant butterscotch pudding or pie mix
- caramel sauce, optional and not original
- flaky sea salt, optional and not original
COOK AND PLAY
Play Que Sera Sera by Doris Day, and get back to the 1950s with this retro dish.
1. Toast The Pecans. Warm a large skillet over medium low heat, add pecans and keep a sharp eye to prevent bitter burning, stirring or tossing from time to time, until you see they’ve toasted to golden brown and smell so much more alive than untoasted pecans. Set aside 1 1/2 cups for the crust and 1/2 cup for the topping.
2. The Quickest Shortbread Ever. Set up a middle rack in oven- preheat oven to 350°. Mix butter, flour and the 1 1/2 cups of toasted pecans in a large bowl to form large crumbs, then press crumb mixture into an ungreased 13 inch x 9-inch baking dish. The crust will not be very thick and bakes to about 1/3″-1/2″. Bake until surface of crust is lightly browned- about 20 minutes- and let cool before topping.
3. It’s Practically Cheesecake! Use an electric hand or standing mixer, starting on slow speed to avoid sugar tornado, to beat cream cheese and powdered sugar in a deep medium bowl until fluffy. Fold in 1 cup of whipped topping and spread mixture over crust.
4. Puddin’ Time. In a large bowl, whisk 3-4 cups milk (the less milk, the thicker the pudding) to a soft set, as package directs. Use an offset spatula or large spoon to spread pudding over cream cheese layer.
5. Cool Whip and Chill. Top pudding layer with whipped topping, as you wish (I use about 8-10 ounces) and toasted pecans. Refrigerate to all is chilled- about 1-2 hours. Cut pie into 8-12 servings and drizzle servings with caramel sauce and a pinch of flaky salt, if you wish.
Some Blissful Thoughts. I was certainly grateful the first time GM made this recipe for us because I was laid up for a bit and not able to cook, but once I heard the ingredient list- instant pudding and Cool Whip, in particular- I thought it would certainly be a case of “one and done”. So imagine my surprise when the first bite brought me a combination of sweet and savory, luscious and decadent flavors that I couldn’t imagine came out of a box and a tub. Of course, I had to have the recipe, and GM was happy to give it to me, but she never did give me the name (she never wrote it down), so we came up with our own name, “Butterscotch Bliss”.
Eventually, curiosity would get the best of me, so onto the internet in search of the original name, which, like most “homey” foods, is a matter of where you make it. No matter the name, they all share a basic structure- a nut shortbread crust topped with layers of cream cheese, pudding and whipped topping and a garnish of chopped nuts or shaved chocolate. So there’s Butterscotch Lush; Butterscotch, Chocolate or Vanilla Delight (featuring butterscotch, chocolate and vanilla pudding, respectively): Preacher Pie (chocolate and vanilla pudding); Jimmy Carter Cake (peanuts and peanut butter with chocolate and vanilla pudding); Robert Redford Pie (walnuts, vanilla and chocolate pudding) and my personal favorite, Arkansas Possum Pie (chocolate pudding, grated chocolate).
So call it and tweak it as you wish- I did offer an optional modern twist, with caramel sauce and flaky salt- and, sure, you can make it with homemade pudding and whipped cream, but I’m not sure it would taste that much better and you clearly lose the nostalgia of eating like your foremothers did way back in the 1950s.
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