The Deep History of Possum Pie, a Classic Arkansas Dessert and Savory Concoction
Recipes that appear in Idea Alley have not been tested by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
In my story about Arkansas desserts that took place on February 2, I mentioned, but did not include a recipe for (perhaps) Arkansas’ most famous dessert: Possum Pie, aka Next Best Thing to Robert Redford, Four-Layer Delight and Five-Layer Delight.
I should have known because several readers reached out asking for a recipe.
The dessert typically includes a nut crumb crust, cream cheese layer, chocolate layer, vanilla layer, and whipped cream or Cool Whip layer. It can be made in a baking dish or in a pie pan.
The reason I didn’t include a recipe is that when I searched the historical newspaper archives for “possum pie” for information on origin and name, more than half of the results didn’t had nothing to do with the dessert. Instead, I found racial slurs, ads for minstrel shows, and other hateful and hurtful relics of Arkansas’ past.
A dessert named Possum Pie was first mentioned in a 1983 restaurant review in the Arkansas Gazette. That same year, the Arkansas Democrat published a recipe from Fred’s Fish House in Cord, Independence County, called Fred’s Five-Layer Delight and featuring a layer of coconut rather than a layer of chocolate. But that was in the late 2000s the first time a Food section published a dessert recipe under the name Possum Pie.
The combination of nut crumb crust, cream cheese, pudding and whipped topping made its newspaper debut on June 6, 1974, Democrat in an article about the Arkansas Dairy Recipe Contest. The contest was open to students enrolled in grades 4 through 12 at any school in Arkansas.
Cindy Watson’s four-layered delight
- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup pecans, chopped, divided use
- 8 tablespoons butter, melted
- 1 cup whipped cream
- ½ cup) sugar
- 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese
- 1 cup icing sugar
- 1 package (3 ounces) instant chocolate pudding mix
- 1 ¾ cup milk
First layer: Combine flour and ½ cup chopped walnuts. Add the melted butter and mix well. Spread into a 9 inch square pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. Cool completely.
Whip the whipped cream, adding sugar while whisking and refrigerate.
Second layer: Soften the cream cheese, stir in the icing sugar and half the chilled whipped cream. Spread over baked and cooled crust.
Third layer: Mix instant chocolate pudding mix with milk. Pour over the second layer.
Fourth layer: Top with remaining whipped cream and sprinkle with remaining ½ cup walnuts. Coldness. Cut into squares to serve.
■ ■ ■
In the early 1980s, similar recipes, but with vanilla pudding, began to appear in Arkansas newspapers.
The next best thing to Robert Redford, the name my grandmother used for this dessert, debuted in Arkansas in the Democrat in 1982, through the editors of the Indianapolis Star and the Los Angeles Times.
The next best thing to Robert Redford
- 1 cup flour
- ½ cup butter or margarine, softened
- 1 cup finely chopped pecans
- 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
- 1 cup of sugar
- 1 carton (9 ounces) frozen non-dairy whipped topping, thawed
- 1 package (6 ¾ ounces) vanilla instant pudding mix
- 1 package (6 ¾ ounces) instant chocolate pudding mix
- 3 cups cold milk
- Grated chocolate bar, optional
Prepare bottom crust by mixing flour, butter and pecans until crumbly.
Press mixture into a greased 13 x 9 inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until lightly golden. Cool.
Beat cream cheese with sugar until smooth. Fold in half of the whipped topping. Spread mixture over cooled crust. Combine vanilla and chocolate pudding mixes. Stir in milk until smooth and thickened. Spread over cream cheese layer. Spread the rest of the whipped topping on top. Sprinkle with grated chocolate bar if desired. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Makes 16 servings.
■ ■ ■
And just three years later in the Gazette, Harriet Aldridge writes about this recipe from Liza Ashley, cook at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion from the 1950s through the late 1990s.
It’s almost identical to Robert Redford’s version, except it has the option of layering the chocolate and vanilla puddings separately, which is more like what we call Possum Pie.
Pudding Cake Dessert
- ½ cup butter, softened
- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup chopped pecans
- 8 ounces of cream cheese
- 1 cup icing sugar
- 1 large container of Cool Whip, thawed, divided use
- 1 package (4 ½ ounces) instant chocolate pudding mix
- 1 package (3 ¾ ounces) instant French vanilla pudding mix
- 2 cups cold milk
- Grated chocolate, optional
Combine butter, flour and pecans. Press into a 13 x 9 x 2 inch pan and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Cool.
Combine cream cheese, icing sugar and 1 cup Cool Whip. Spread over cooled crust.
Mix instant puddings with milk until thick. (Puddings can be mixed and spread together or separately.) Spread over cream cheese filling. Top with remaining Cool Whip. Grate chocolate on top if desired. Cool well.
Send your culinary contributions, requests and questions by e-mail to: [email protected]