When I received an invitation to a pot luck dinner with novelist E.L. Doctorow, I was honored, of course, but also saw it as a challenge to find a recipe that would complement one of his novels. I chose World’s Fair, published in 1985,because its young narrator, named Edgar (also Doctorow’s first name), visits the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, New York.
The Fair’s theme, “Building the World of Tomorrow,” extended into the food exhibits. At the time, this meant canned goods, pressure cookers, and a “planned electric kitchen for the home.” Brands including Wonder Bread, Kraft, and Beech Nut set up futuristic pavilions. If you’re curious, take a look at Eater NY. There’s also a whole 1939 World’s Fair site.
In the novel, the Fair mesmerizes Edgar, who says, ”I forgot everything that wasn’t the Fair as if the Fair was all there was, as if going on rides and seeing the sights, with crowds of people around you and music in your head, were natural life.”
One of the sights at the Fair was The Borden company’s Dairyland building. Here, Borden distributed a pamphlet of 108 recipes featuring products from its “spick and span” plants: Eagle sweetened, condensed milk; processed cheese (called Chateau); None Such Mince Meat; and evaporated milk.
For the pot luck, I figured I couldn’t go wrong with a “Magic” pie and a “cookless” pie crust. I made both, poured the filling into the pie, put it into the refrigerator, and went off to work. Five hours later, when it was time for dinner, the pie had not set.
Somewhat panicked, I brought it anyway, figuring I could freeze it once I arrived. The freezer did nothing but make it slightly slushy – and not stiff enough to slice. I told anyone who asked to pretend it was pudding but I was too embarrassed to reveal my failure to E.L. Doctorow. Fortunately, he skipped dessert and was none the wiser. I share the recipe in the hope that you will have better luck. Maybe a bit of black magic descended into my double boiler. If you get the same results that I did, just put it in a bowl, top with whipped cream, and break out a serving spoon instead of a knife. Nobody complained about the silky chocolate texture and the ginger cookie crust!
Borden’s Magic Chocolate Pie (1939)
Makes 1 (8-inch) pie
2 squares unsweetened chocolate [I used two one-ounce squares of Baker’s chocolate]
1 1/3 cups Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk
1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Pie shell (8 inches)
- Melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler.
- Add the condensed milk and stir over rapidly boiling water 5 minutes or until thick. Remove from the heat.
- Add the water and salt, mixing well.
- When cool, add the vanilla. Pour into the prepared pie shell.
- Garnish with whipped cream, if desired. Chill.
Graham Cracker Cookless Pie Crust (1939)
Makes 1 (8-inch) pie crust
- Roll [or crush] enough graham crackers [note: I used Anna’s brand Swedish ginger cookies. You may also substitute vanilla wafers or fine, dry bread crumbs] to make 1 cup of crumbs.
- Mix well with 5 tablespoons melted butter.
- Cover the bottom and sides of an 8-inch pie pan, pressing firmly into place. Pour in filling.
Hi Clara, thanks for following my blog.
Perhaps the ‘magic’ chocolate filling didn’t set because there are no eggs included in the recipe? Other recipes I know that use condensed milk (i.e. Key Lime Pie) all include egg yolks.
Thanks for your suggestion. I will try the recipe with an egg yolk if I make it again. I wonder if the sweetened, condensed milk formula itself has changed since the 1930s. Or maybe I didn’t let the filling cool before I put it in the refrigerator. The mysteries!
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