On a recent Saturday, under the railroad bridge at 79th and Stoney Island near the Skyway entrance, were Nation of Islam volunteers distributing literature. One of my friends noticed they were also delivering something looking like a pie to cars. We all guessed the same thing: could this be a bean pie? Working fast against time and a traffic light change, I opened the window while shouting, "Are those bean pies you're selling?" "Yes." "How much?" "Seven dollars." "I'll buy one!" After several years of discussion of this very pie, it was like winning the lottery to buy this pie on the street.
I am not going to steal anyone's thunder, much of what I know about bean pie was learned from Rene G and through various contacts we made last year in preparation for Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance symposium on Sweets. To get the straight story from Rene G, you can listen to his presentation "Bean Pie: Iconic African-American-Islamic dessert" at Chicago Amplified program of Chicago Public Radio. If you listen further, Paula Haney of Hoosier Mama Pie Company presents "From Abundance to Desperation—Pies of Indiana"; and I conclude the panel with my presentation "Reclaiming the Pecan’s Roots."
Bean pies are usually made of navy beans seasoned with spices that evoke a pumpkin pie. The canned or cooked fresh navy beans are typically processed in a blender along with eggs, evaporated milk, sugar, butter, spices and sometimes vanilla. There are variations of this recipe where pinto beans are used. Only one recipe of bean pie made with navy bean flour, I ground the beans to a powder in a coffee grinder, poured into boiling water. The bean flour immediately transformed into thick paste upon hitting the water.
A bean pie made with pinto beans
This is a cross section of pie made by Supreme Bean (the fuzzy dark figure is my cat, but it was the best picture of the group)
Last year prior to the symposium, finding a commercial source for bean pies was almost futile effort. We spent a Sunday driving around to bakeries known to offer bean pies to find they had gone out of business. I was on the cusp of making the pies myself, when Rene G located a source for bean pies. The Nation of Islam's bakery had recently reopened after having been closed for several years. It is the same source we bought from recently, though the label changed.
Supreme Bean Pie
7351 South Stoney Island
Chicago, IL 60649
In this effort to locate a bean pie, a bakery owner advised bean pies are often available at Kwanzaa festivals, if you can't otherwise find one.
One day, Rene G will provide additional information on this unique pie, meanwhile there is his presentation to listen to.