Tradition Bean Pie Recipe & History
Bean Pie, My Brother?
That’s what you’re likely to be asked by a clean cut, bow-tie-wearing African American man in the intersection of some major city. That, or you’re asked to buy a copy of “The Final Call,” the official newspaper of the Nation of Islam.
The bean pie dates to the 1930s, when the founder of the Nation of Islam, Elijah Muhammad, told his followers to eschew pork and unhealthy starches like corn bread and sweet potatoes and adhere to a healthful diet, with a particular focus on the navy bean. Muslims created the bean pie in part as a healthier substitute for the sweet potato pie.
In the “Bean Pie, My Brother documentary” by filmmaker Hassanah Thomas-Tauhidi, Jabir Muhammad — son of Elijah — talks about how Shabazz, Muhammad Ali’s main cook and a member of the Nation of Islam — created the pie, which Jabir Muhammad then began selling in his bakery to great acclaim. Before long, the pie became inextricably associated with the Nation, which sold them to raise funds, sold out of iconic pink boxes on street corners by men in those familiar bow ties.
When Nation members began opening restaurants, bean pies became a menu staple. Beyond the restaurants, young men — especially those who could find no other employment — began selling the pie and the group’s newspaper on the streets. Many male members of the Nation have at one point or another sold the pies — almost like a rite of passage. But few have made selling them their sole trade.
Bean pie is considered a cross-cultural creation. Created by members of the Nation and extremely popular with the African-American Muslim community as well as Southerners of all races and walks of life, bean pie took on a life of its own. Professional chefs/bakers as well as your average everyday kitchen novice, began experimenting with different beans (mainly pinto beans and the great northern white bean) as well as crust options ranging from a traditional pie crust to a graham cracker crust to gluten free crusts. Bean pie can now be found at Kwaanza festivals, Black History Month related festivals, Martin Luther King Day festivals, reggae festivals, jazz festivals, and the like.
Today I share with you the bean pie recipe that has become a staple in our home. My husband’s family is Muslim and it is through them that I came to learn about and become instantly addicted to this pie! I am providing you with the traditional recipe and noting gluten free options in parenthesis.
Bean Pie Recipe
Makes 2 pies
- 2 cups cooked Navy Beans
- 14 ounce can of Evaporated Milk
- 1 stick of Butter
- 1 teaspoon Nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon Cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons Unbleached Flour (or your favorite gluten free flour/Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Baking Flour Mix)
- 2 cups Sugar
- 4 eggs
- 2 tablespoons Vanilla Bean Paste or Vanilla Extract
- Soak the dry beans overnight.
- Cook the beans until soft.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- In an electric blender, blend beans, butter, milk, eggs, nutmeg, cinnamon, and flour about 2 minutes on medium speed.
- Pour mixture into a large mixing bowl.
- Add sugar and vanilla. Mix well.
- Pour into pie shells.
- Bake about one hour until golden brown.
Tip: 5 minutes after removing pies from oven, cover with plastic wrap that clings.
Bean Pie Crust
Makes 2 pies
- 2 cups unbleached or finely ground whole wheat flour (or your favorite gluten free flour/Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Baking Flour Mix)
- 1 teaspoon Salt
- 5 tablespoons of Cold Water
- ¾ cups of Shortening (I use ¾ cups of butter instead)
- Mix Flour and salt in bowl.
- Cut in shortening or butter using pastry blender or two knives, until all flour is just blended to form pea-sized chunks.
- Sprinkle water, one Tablespoon at a time.
- Toss lightly with fork until dough will form a ball.
- Divide dough into two parts.
- Press between hands to form two 5- to 6-inch patties.
- Set aside one patty.
- With rolling pin, roll out the crust patty between two pieces of unfloured plastic wrap, into a circle the size of an upside-down pie pan.
- Remove top piece of plastic wrap. Use the bottom piece of plastic wrap to lift the crust and turn it into the pie pan.
- While plastic wrap is still covering crust, gently press crust to fit the pan.
- Remove the other pie of plastic wrap. Roll out the other pie crust patty the same way.