Monday, November 16, 2009

Chocolate Chip Pie

No, this is not the name of a new plant!  Sorry.  I have avoided posting about food up to this point because this is, after all, a garden blog.  But... many of us who garden are also "foodies" to one degree or another.  The other night, I posted on my Facebook account that I had just made an old family favorite, Chocolate Chip Pie, and I was immediately flooded with requests for the recipe.  Since the space on Facebook is somewhat limited, I thought I'd post it here instead and make it easier for everyone to have.

Chocolate Chip Pie is one of those things that sounds a lot more decadent than it really is.  It's actually a very light and fluffy dessert all thanks to the World War II-era invention of one Mr. Robert Rich, who, because of a shortage of dairy products during the war, used what at the time was state-of-the-art technology to create the very first non-dairy whipped topping.  Today, we most often refer to this product as "Cool Whip", just like we refer to tissues as "Kleenex"--a brand name instead of the actual product name--but it was Rich's Whip Topping that debuted in 1945 and changed the way we think about whipped topping, non-dairy creamers and a host of other "non-dairy" products.

We all think we're leading the way today with our commitment to soy milk and other "soy" products, but did you know that the first soy ice cream was actually on the market in 1951!?!  It's true.

So because of the invention of whipped topping, Chocolate Chip Pie has been a part of our family for more than 50 years.  When my mother was a little girl, a close family friend, Leona Benninga, would make it for special occasions.  It was mom's favorite dessert back then and I think it's safe to say that that still holds true today.  I still have my copy of the recipe in Leona's handwriting that she passed on to me many years ago.  I'm not sure where the original recipe came from, but my best guess would be that it either came off of the whipped topping label or out of a lady's magazine, such as Woman's Day.  Maybe mom knows.  I'll have to ask her.

So that's the abbreviated version of the story of Chocolate Chip Pie, and here's the quick and easy recipe!

Chocolate Chip Pie

1 graham cracker piecrust (8" or 10" will work, but in a 10" shell the filling won't be as deep)

1/2 cup milk
30 large marshmallows (there are about 35 in a bag and I just use them all)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups of non-dairy whipped topping (Cool Whip, etc.) completely thawed so it's light and fluffy
3 ounces of unsweetened baking chocolate, grated

In a heavy, 3-quart sauce pan place 1/2 cup of milk and add the 30 marshmallows.  Place over medium heat and warm it until the milk starts bubbling up between the marshmallows, being careful that the marshmallows don't start to scorch.  When the marshmallows begin to melt, remove pan from heat and stir slowly until the marshmallows have melted completely (the retained heat in the pan should be enough to do this and the mixture should be smooth and somewhat foamy).

At this point, I transfer the warm marshmallow mixture to a room temperature glass mixing bowl to help bring the temperature down more quickly.  Once the mixture is completely cooled, add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and stir in.  Next, add the three cups of whipped topping and gently fold the marshmallow mixture and the whipped topping together until it is completely blended. (The marshmallow mixture must be completely cool when you add the whipped topping or the whipped topping will melt!)  Finally, add the finely grated unsweetened baker's chocolate to the bowl and fold in until completely combined.  The mixture should resemble very light and fluffy chocolate chip ice cream.

Carefully add the filling to the piecrust and distribute evenly.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.  The longer it chills, the better it cuts and serves.  You might also choose to reserve a tablespoon or so of grated chocolate to sprinkle over the top when complete.

That's it!  Like I said, it's nothing fancy or terribly decadent--just an old family favorite that we all still love.  Hope you enjoy it, too!

*Notes:  I have made this with both sugar free and fat free whipped topping and it's just as good either way.  The marshmallows contribute plenty of sweetness.  If you want it even more chocolatey, it's also good in a chocolate graham cracker crust.  It makes it taste like an Oreo cookie!

Also, I changed the original recipe from 2 cups of whipped topping and 2 ounces of baker's chocolate to 3 cups and 3 ounces, respectively, because I like the filling to "stack up" a little deeper in the shell, so if you find yourself with an overabundance of filling, just lick the bowl really well and you can cut it back a little the next time.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Autumn Reprise

I sat down at the computer today prepared to blog about Hedychium, or ginger lily, but as I was scrolling through my photos this iris (cultivar 'Total Recall') caught my eye. It reminded me that I had just been in a garden earlier this week where the remontant (re-blooming) iris were in their full fall glory and so I changed my mind. I'll do the ginger lily post next week because right now, I have iris on my mind. This is partially due to the fact that just a few weeks ago I planted a box full of rhizomes that my good friend and partner in horticultural crime, Kelly Norris, sent me from his nursery, Rainbow Iris Farm ( in Iowa. (You also should check out Kelly's blog at, but not until after you finish reading mine, please and thank you.)

Anyway... this photograph jogged my memory of several gardens that I have been in recently where the re-blooming iris, because of our long and unusually warm autumn, were absolutely stunning. I used to have a "thing" about plants that were typically spring-flowering reblooming in the autumn (I still don't like fall-flowering azaleas), but I have to admit that these remontant iris have become some of my favorites. 'Total Recall' was flowering at the Daniel Stowe Botanic Garden in Charlotte, NC when the Tennessee gang and I were there on our way to Raleigh for the Garden Writers conference back in late September. Others will bloom throughout the month of October and into November where the growing season is long enough and they don't get cut down by a hard frost.

Most of these re-bloomers, at least the ones that are readily available, are the typical tall bearded types. Being sort of a bearded iris virgin, I'm sure that there are others, too, but the tall beardeds are the ones I'm most familiar with so I'm sticking with those for now. Probably the most famous of all of the re-bloomers is the stunning white 'Immortality'. Now, you know I can barely stand white flowers, so for me to use the terms "white" and "stunning" in the same sentence, let alone side by side in a description, means that this plant must be truly special, and it is if for no other reason that it is one of the most consistent repeaters of any bearded iris, usually offering a show that is almost as impressive in the autumn as it is in the spring.

Other beautiful rebloomers include: 'St. Petersburg', 'Earl of Essex', 'Eleanor Roosevelt', 'Autumn Tryst', 'Summer Olympics', 'September Replay' and of course the ones I've already mentioned, 'Immortality' and 'Total Recall'.

These beautiful iris are just as easy to grow as the typical spring bloomers, but you get twice as much beauty from them! As for all bearded iris, excellent drainage is very important and full sun is preferred, though they will tolerate a little bit of shade (this may affect reblooming). Nearly all of them are extremely cold hardy and will grow all the way up into Zone 3, though fall bloom can sometimes be cut short in colder climates. In our southern gardens, though, where autumn often hangs on well into November as it has done this year, re-blooming iris are a great way to end the season!