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Exploring Boston Cream Pie

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Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

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From Humble Beginnings

In 1825, a 20-year-old youth named Harvey Parker from the small town of Paris, Maine, moved to Boston, Massachusetts. He had no family or friends, no job, and only $1.00 in his pocket. But Harvey had a head full of ideas and a heart full of ambition; he quickly landed his first job as a caretaker for a cow and a horse. Several more menial jobs followed, but then he was employed as a coachman for a wealthy Boston socialite, a position that changed his life.

Harvey often enjoyed his midday meal in a basement tavern. Despite the fact that he had no experience, he was inspired to improve the food and atmosphere and bought the tavern for $432. He renamed it Parker’s Restaurant, serving an updated menu and employing professional waitstaff. The former dingy hole-in-the-wall became the go-to place for Boston’s elite. By 1847, Parker’s was one of the most popular dining destinations in the city.

Seven years later, Parker, with an investment partner, purchased a boarding house that had once been a grand mansion. The aging structure was razed and in its place arose an Italianate-style five-story brick-and-stone hotel with marble steps, elegant foyer, crystal chandeliers, burnished bronze fixtures, golden oak paneling, and plush wool carpets.

The lobby of Omni Parker House Hotel

The lobby of Omni Parker House Hotel

Instead of the traditional boarding house meals at established times, Parker’s had a new concept—an elegant dining room, a menu, and upscale meals which could be purchased at any time. Today, Parker's is regarded as the oldest of Boston’s elegant inns and the longest continuously operating hotel in the United States.

Some Notable Parker's Guests

  • Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  • Babe Ruth
  • Ulysses S. Grant
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt
  • John F. Kennedy
  • Sarah Bernhardt

A century and one-half ago, the creative kitchen staff developed several dishes which are still known today. One of those is the Boston cream pie. It's obviously made with sponge cake so why is it called pie?

At that time, pie and cake tins were often considered interchangeable, as were the words themselves. This lax approach to labeling is likely why [chef and Boston cream pie creator] Sanzian's French-inspired concoction debuted as "Chocolate Cream Pie" in 1856, and why subsequent versions continued to be called pies rather than cakes.

— Aimee Seavey in Yankee Magazine

In January 1983, the Yankee Magazine published a feature article entitled "A Pie in Cake's Clothing." Therein is a recipe which is reportedly the original Parker's House Boston Cream Pie.

Boston cream pie cheesecake

Boston cream pie cheesecake

Boston Cream Pie Cheesecake

When I am in need of a serious dessert-fix, a pull-out-the-stops decadent display of sugar and chocolate, I visit the blog of Lindsay, Life, Love, and Sugar. This cheesecake has a vanilla cake bottom, chocolate ganache filling, thick and creamy vanilla cheesecake and is topped with more chocolate ganache and of course, pastry cream.

Boston cream pie cookies

Boston cream pie cookies

Boston Cream Pie Cookies

I love Terri's philosophy—"Dessert first, travel often, brunch always." She creates authentic pastry cream (not packaged vanilla pudding) to make these "cookies for grownups," hand-held confections with all the flavor (and decadence) of Boston cream pie wrapped up in a cookie.

Boston cream pie crepe cake

Boston cream pie crepe cake

Boston Cream Pie Crepe Cake

After reading her post, I have come to the conclusion that Lyuba and I are twins, separated at birth. (Never mind the fact that we look nothing alike and I am no doubt old enough to be her mother.) She is very picky (as am I). She knows what she likes, and what she doesn't like, and thus she bakes her own birthday cake. Yes, this cake made of thin as air, delicate crepes stacked with vanilla custard is her creation, and it certainly is birthday-worthy!

Boston cream pie crepes

Boston cream pie crepes

Boston Cream Pie Crepes

Here is another Boston cream pie crepe recipe. This one allowing the delicate crepes to be the star of the show.

Boston cream pie parfaits

Boston cream pie parfaits

Boston Cream Pie Parfaits

Holly is a photographer, recipe-developer, and foodie extraordinaire. She has used the recent fad of building desserts in see-through Mason jars to create a Boston cream pie parfait. Here she provides her recipe for homemade layers of custard, chocolate, and yellow cake. (Or if you are in a hurry, she provides instructions for using pudding mix and cake mix.)

Boston Cream Pie Trifle

A traditional English trifle is a layered dessert made with pound cake, Grand Marnier, creme anglaise, whipped cream, and fresh raspberries. Fresh raspberries are not always in season, but we can find chocolate any time! Lindsey features this beautiful deconstructed cake which takes less than 60 minutes to bake and assemble but looks like you fussed for hours.

© 2019 Linda Lum

Comments

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 18, 2019:

Good morning Shauna. I want every one of those sweets right now. (I picked a heck of a time to go on a diet, didn't I?)

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on June 18, 2019:

Yummy! I love Boston Cream Pie! I always wondered why it was dubbed a pie. Now I know!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 17, 2019:

Thelma, I am sure that your visitors would enjoy any one of these treats. I thank you for stopping by and taking the time to comment. Have a wonderful week.

Thelma Alberts from Germany and Philippines on June 17, 2019:

Oh my! This sounds heavenly delicious. I think I have to make this food when I have visitors. As of now, I am craving for it. Thanks for this historical information of this hard working person. He is an inspiration to all of us. Great hub. Thanks for sharing.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 12, 2019:

Well, Bill, I can certainly add this to the mailbox because although the question has been answered (I wrote an entire article on Yorkshire pudding) it bears repeating. Thanks for this. Sometimes the mailbox is pretty slim.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 12, 2019:

You can toss this in your Mailbag series....so I'm watching the British baking show,and one of the challenges was to make Yorkshire Pudding. Twelve people made twelve variations of what they called Yorkshire Pudding, but I swear,Linda,not one of them was pudding. What's up with that?

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 11, 2019:

R Talloni as soon as you finish making that pie, give me a call, OK? It's not on my diet, but I could make an exception.

RTalloni on June 11, 2019:

Stories like this about people who worked hard to build a business never get old. To think of all the people he employed and how his efforts evolved and expanded to benefit so many makes a person smile.

That we enjoy so many desserts from the Parker House Boston Creme Pie is something to keep smiling about. Thanks for all the history and info. Gotta find me some Boston Creme Pie dessert soon!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 11, 2019:

Ms. Dora, so you think I need a disclaimer on my articles? You made me chuckle. Yes, I think Mr. Parker's story is amazing; truly rags to riches.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on June 11, 2019:

Linda, would you mind putting a warning at the beginning that the reader's appetite is likely to go haywire after seeing your pictures? Thanks anyway for the inspirational story about Harvey Parker's achievement despite his setback. Thanks also for the recipe.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on June 11, 2019:

Linda I did not mention that is bookmarked. I look you up and head to the store afterwards. Such joy of cooking.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 11, 2019:

Eric, I actually did an article on gazpacho. Google "Exploring Gazpacho: The Salad in a Glass". It contains 6 recipes from which you can choose.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on June 11, 2019:

I am sorry for being all "public". But yesterday we had a weird one at 105 degrees for two hours. I was so blessed to have water to pass out to my recycle buddies. Nobody could explain it. They sheltered in place at Gabes school.

I am a coward of heat and took refuge. We do not do air con. Just wrong.

An Aloe Vera smear all over reduces heat.

So OH BOY. Give us that Gespatcho type recipe to cool us down. Too hot and too cold gives an excuse to eat. Bring it on.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 11, 2019:

Good morning Eric. I thought that your question might be fodder for the Monday mailbox, but this is becoming a full-blown article. Whoo-hoo! Great idea and something for me to work on tomorrow (Wednesday) when I'm trying to avoid the outdoors. We're scheduled for a scorcher of a day. Well, at least in my part of the world it's considered a scorcher. Ninety degrees is not that common up here and I'm such a delicate little flower don't ya know.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on June 11, 2019:

Sorry for misspelling. Yes. Menudo and Michaeladas and beer sours. In my case they are non Alc. But these cure hangovers. Which means they cure many others issues with the right spices.

Just a thought or 10 ;-)

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on June 11, 2019:

Yes excuse my misspelling. Perhaps Menudo at the same time. (maybe misspelled again :-) And we can pare both with a Michelada (even sans alcohol) I also make a beer margarita with the finest beer around Clausthaler, several hundred years of brewing.

The notion is that these clear up hangovers. Fine and dandy but with the right spices these become super cleansing/support foods.

Just a young man's ramblings young lady.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 10, 2019:

Flourish, truth be told I haven't had Boston cream pie since "I can't remember when." But that definitely needs to change. At the moment I'm eyeing those crepes (not the stacked cake but the rolled ones). Crepes are ridiculously easy to make.

Like you, I was amazed that someone with such humble beginnings could go so far. He must have been an amazingly smart, talented (and perhaps charming) individual.

FlourishAnyway from USA on June 10, 2019:

Oh, these look incredible! And that history is very inspiring buying the bar at such a young age! A true American success story.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 10, 2019:

Hi Eric. Yes, I did write not too long ago about meringue.

Anyone who would dump you wasn't worth the bother. I'm glad you at least got a slice of pie out of the deal.

Now as for your pezole. Do you mean pozole, the hominy soup? I can help you with that.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 10, 2019:

Pamela, I had fun researching this one and I'm glad that you enjoyed it.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on June 10, 2019:

Maybe it was the same Parkers. She had me meet her there for cake and Schnapps. Met her there, loved her there and she dumped me there. I stayed for the pie. Long drive back to Dartmouth.

I think you just did one on Meringue fever (oops thats what I call it as it is infectious) I am coming up there to diet and make you work out with me.

What of Pezole' Mine just has no pzazz in a can tastes as good?

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on June 10, 2019:

Thanks Linda, now I want some big dessert! Everything did look delicious, but I loved the historical success story. A man with $1 in his pocket and look what he accomplished. This is a very inspired article.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 10, 2019:

Bill, truth be told, that's my favorite part too. I love exploring the history of food and the people that made it happen. Thanks for stopping by.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 10, 2019:

Never had it! No surprise there, right? But a fascinating history which I was very interested in. I love stories like that, the American Dream come true.