“It’s a long way to go for pie.” Patrick, my husband, cautioned as we bumped our way along the long stretch of Bahamian road from South Eleuthera to North.
“Yes, but it ‘s worth it.” I spoke with authority. It would be our third pineapple pie this week.
Our first day on the island, we’d hiked over a scruffy hill down a crater maze of a road to Surfer’s Beach. As the turquoise water curled under Patrick’s board, I struck up conversation with a deeply tanned group of surfers who, by sheer appearance alone, looked like they were apart of the Bahamian island itself.
“You’ve got to go to Monica’s for a hamburger after the beach,” George, a Floridian who’d been coming to the island for the past thirty years, told me.
“And a pineapple pie.” The woman beside George rubbed wax on her surfboard as she spoke. “Her’s are the best in town.”
The whole group nodded.
“Yip.” A yellow haired island dog snuggled deep in the sand agreed.
So, it was no surprise when later that day all of us ended up on the porch at Monica’s ordering cheeseburgers and trading weather reports and swell conditions. As the lone non-surfer, I went inside to talk with Monica.
Steam from the griddle fogged her glasses, but her smile was visible from anywhere in the dim room.
“I’ve been told this is the best place on the island for pineapple pie.” I was hoping to charm a recipe from her.
“Oh, child. I don’t know ‘bout that.” Monica’s laugh filled the small space. She turned her back to tend to the burgers.
Another woman with tight cornrows pulled back from her face handed me a pie wrapped in waxed paper from the case below the register. “You’re gonna like this.”
She was right.
Back on Monica’s porch, Patrick and I devoured the cheeseburgers at a rickety wooden picnic table and moved on to the pie. I split the four-inch round open like a book and the sweet smell of pineapple mixed with warm notes of nutmeg. This was like no pie I’d ever seen. In place of short flaky crust was a light, spongy, cake-like shell. A thin layer of pineapple jam lay sandwiched between the bottom layer and top lattice crust. With one bite into the not-too-sweet, not-too pineappley moist treat, I knew it would not be my last.
The next day, Ponytail Pete, the local surfing guru at Rebecca’s Surf Shop, whispered to me. “Two doors down, a lady named Mary sells pies at the 7-Eleven. “
Normally, I have strict rules about avoiding anything sold as a foodstuff at 7-Eleven, but who am I to argue with local knowledge?
Through the scraggle, on a one-way busted-up limestone path we bounced in the Jeep on our way to Lighthouse Beach on the Atlantic side of the island.
We hiked up and over sand dunes and bluffs emerging from the native shrubs to a never-ending azure vista. Swirls of water and wind erosion decorated the limestone cliffs with waves of Zion. Behind us coconut palms had been battered by the elements for a lifetime. Sapphire waters turned to teal and aquamarine in the bay before lapping gently over rose-colored sand. I lowered my sunglasses to make sure it was not a polarized lens trick.
Patrick fell asleep immediately, a coconut for his pillow, his white belly barely contrasting with the soft sand around us. All the elements were there; the sound of surf, the warm Bahamian sun, a slight breeze to keep us cool and the flies at bay, but my mind could not be lulled to relax. I couldn’t stop thinking of the pineapple pie in the cooler bag beside me.
Luckily, it was not long before the grumbling of Patrick’s stomach woke him and I began to unpack our picnic of conch salad, macaroni and cheese, and barbecued chicken legs from the jerk pit we’d stopped at on the side of the road. Slow Down. Fresh Conch and Jerk Pit Ahead the sign read.
Steven, a large island man, stood sheltered from the searing sun by a blue tarp. “Hello, boss,” he called out when we pulled over. “And, good day to you, baby.”
Half a dozen pink shells lined his wooden countertop, the meat still wriggling inside.
It was Steven who’d told us about Lighthouse Beach. “I ain’t been down there in twelve years.” He munched on the horn of the conch while he talked and chopped at the same time. “It’s an hour away, you know.” He dunked a green pepper into a bucket of water with halved limes floating on the top. He diced the pepper and repeated the process with a tomato. “But, it da prettiest beach in all da Bahamas.”
He bagged the salad and sent us off with a smile.
Mary’s pineapple pie was the perfect ending to our picnic. It had less of the moist crumbly bottom and maybe slightly more of the sticky pineapple reduction, but the effect was the same. It was delicious and disappeared in moments.
A day of diving with grey angelfish, rainbow parrotfish, and midnight blue tangs kept me away from another tasting the next morning. While I chased a mosaic wrasse around the coral outcrop trying to memorize the exact color of blue and yellow to paint my kitchen when I got back home — Monticello Yellow and Blue Reef according to Ralph Lauren paint swatches — Patrick spotted a brown and tan trumpetfish trying to fool us into thinking he was a piece of coral. Schools of yellow snapper floated above. Patrick reached out to fan what looked like Snuffleupagus’s trunk but he assured me after was a sea cucumber.
Exhausted and starving from a morning on the water, we headed down north as the locals are apt to say, to Cocoplum’s wooden deck on the beach for a few cold Kalik’s to wash down the conch salad that Coco diced into small cubes before our eyes.
“You haven’t had nothin’ ‘til you try my mother-in-law Helen’s pie at the airport.” Both Coco and his brother-in-law Kevin, a local impressionist artist, assured me after hearing of my newfound love for the taste of Eleuthera.
Airport meals were another thing I tried to avoid, but I was not about to doubt what Coco said after tasting his version of conch salad. It had less onion than previous bowls I’d tried and used a combination of goat and finger peppers for both heat and flavor.
“You can line ten guys up and give them the same ingredients and dey all will taste different.” Coco’s secret may be the fact that he fishes his conch right out of a rock walled pen in the ocean behind him.
I was envious. I always wanted a kitchen job where I could wear flip-flops and wade into the sea at regular intervals.
As the sun plummeted at too fast a pace, signaling the end of our holiday, both Kevin and I convinced Patrick to get back in the Jeep and pick up one last pie from Helen.
The streaks of grey in her ponytail led me to believe all her years of making pie would outshine the earlier examples. This pie was lighter and moist but also baked in a rectangular sheet pan and cut in squares. Although she laughed like a schoolgirl when I asked about her recipe, I knew her years of experience and the flavor of the island had gone into this one slice of pie just for me.
Patrick was right. It was along way to go for pie, but a week on the island of Eleuthera made it all worthwhile.
Bahamian Pineapple Pie
1 fresh pineapple, chopped
1 cup sugar
1 lime, juiced
1 stick butter, soft
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup cream
Simmer the pineapple, sugar and limejuice on the stove for 20 minutes to reduce. Set aside to cool.
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
In the bowl of a standing mixer, blend butter, baking powder, flour, sugar and nutmeg with the paddle attachment until it is crumbled together. Add egg and cream and mix until dough forms a ball. Do not over-mix.
Turn onto a lightly floured board and divide into half. Divide one half into eight balls. Roll out the smaller balls to ¼ inch thick and line 8 greased tart tin. Fill with pineapple filling.
Divide remaining dough in four and roll out to ¼ inch thick. Cut into ½ inch thick strips with a crimped pastry roller. Weave the pastry strips across the top of the tart to form a lattice-work pattern.
Bake for 1/2 hour until golden.
Makes 8 individual tarts