If you’re not from around here, you may not know that we who call North Carolina home are commonly referred to as Tar Heels. In colonial times, North Carolina settlements were a major source of pitch and tar, derived from pine trees and used to seal the hulls of ships.
So widespread was the production of tar that North Carolinians acquired the nickname tarboilers. Tar boiling being dirty, smelly work, the nickname was seldom used as a compliment or term of endearment.
That all changed, the story goes, during the Civil War when troops from North Carolina earned a reputation for holding their ground, while their Virginia comrades would turn and beat it. Their comrades, our boys maintained, might stick and fight better with some of that North Carolina tar on their heels.
General Lee agreed. So impressed was he with the North Carolinian grit that he quipped: God bless those Tar Heel boys!
The name tar heel, you might say, stuck.
It’s not too much of a leap to venture that what we call Tar Heel pie – essentially, a brownie pie – derives from a certain resemblance between brownie batter and, well, tar. If there’s a better explanation, I’m all ears.
Some might argue that brownies are good enough on their own, without a crust, but only someone who has never actually tried a brownie pie. The crust confers status – it says this is no mere brownie – and adds a contrasting tone and texture. It also allows for a decorative flourish at the edge, elevating the brownie’s overall appearance. And, oh yeah, it tastes really good, too.
But don’t take my word for it. There’s only one way to appreciate Tar Heel pie, and that’s to make one yourself. Better yet, make six mini ones, like I have here, and spread the love around, this being an opportune time since today is Valentine’s Day, though no one will much care if theirs shows up later this week, or this month, or sometime after Memorial Day. This is a pie for all seasons and reasons.
Dense, moist and fudge-like, Tar Heel pie loves a scoop of vanilla ice cream and perhaps a drizzle of chocolate or caramel sauce.
But if you want to serve it with an out-of-the-box garnish, let me recommend this Peanut Butter Whipped Cream lightly sweetened with maple syrup. It combines two of the most compatible flavors known to man, whipped into soft clouds and enhanced with my absolute favorite sweetener. You’ll love it as much as I do.
Happy Valentine’s Day from North Carolina, and best wishes to you.
WORKING NOTES: This can be made as one standard (not deep-dish) 9-inch pie, or – as I have here – 4 or 6 small pies. The yield – the number of pies you’ll end up with – depends entirely on the size and capacity of your pans. The mini pans I prefer are the disposable foil ones measuring 4 1/4″ in diameter and about 7/8-inch deep. You’ll get six of those from this recipe. Typical individual metal or ceramic pans are closer to 5″ wide and 1 1/4″ deep and hold about twice as much batter. You’ll get 3 or 4 of those from this recipe. In either case, even though it adds a step, I suggest prebaking the pie shells as directed. Otherwise, the brownie may be done before the crust is finished baking. Finally, if you’re making one pie out of this, instead of smaller ones, use a standard 9″ pie pan, not a deep-dish one. You will probably have leftover dough. Remember to refer to the Table of Contents if you need pie pastry recipes.