Depression-Era Water Pie Is Like A Magic Trick In Your Oven

Water pie sounds like a cruel joke. After all, part of our love affair with pies is the fact that they are desserts — sweet and filled with juicy fruits, custards, or puddings. Plain water as a filling surely doesn't qualify, or make any sense for that matter. But, indeed, water pie is a thing. A creation that was born during the Great Depression, it doesn't require any milk or eggs, ingredients that were hard to come by and expensive during the 1930s. Despite the name, and the fact that it isn't one of America's favorite types of pie, water pie isn't nearly as bland as it sounds, and is actually a great-tasting, nostalgic treat that is very budget-friendly.


When the five filling ingredients are baked (one of them being water, of course) in the oven, a gelatinous texture is created, turning liquid into something you can actually cut into slices when the pie is removed from the oven and cooled. Like magic, it goes in as water and comes out as pie. The other curious bit about preparing this dessert is that you don't even have to mix the ingredients together. In fact, you shouldn't. Just pour it all into a pie crust, wave your wand (just kidding), bake, and you've got dessert.

Turning water into pie

To make water pie, you'll need a flaky, buttery pie crust (store-bought or homemade), water, flour, sugar, vanilla extract (for flavor), and butter. You pour plain water into the crust and then sprinkle a mix of flour and sugar right inside. Follow with your vanilla extract and, finally, dot your butter all over the surface of the water. This unusual looking (and very runny) concoction then goes into the oven to bake. From here, basic chemistry takes over with the sugar melting and becoming sticky, the fat in the butter emulsifying, and the starch in the flour holding everything together. This is basically how water turns into a sliceable pie.


While a vanilla-scented water pie is typically what was made in the early years of the pie's creation, you can tailor it to several different flavors by switching up the extract. Citrus, coconut, rum, and almond extracts would taste delicious, or sprinkle in some warm spices like cinnamon and nutmeg to give another layer of flavor. Despite its simplicity, water pie was likely a special treat during the Depression, considering how dire the time was for many families. Surely, it was a treat to enjoy anything sweet at all, and having a homemade pie was something to celebrate.

More Depression-era desserts

Water pie was just one of many very creative recipes that came out of necessity during the time of the country's Great Depression. Others that might raise a few eyebrows today include vinegar pie (which tastes uncannily like the delectable goo in apple pie); wacky cake, which is a chocolate flavored cake made without eggs; and tomato soup cake that, yup, uses a can of tomato soup. However, it also contains plenty of spices plus dried fruit and nuts to hide any blatant tomato flavor.


The mighty potato proved to be a useful ingredient for many recipes during this era as well; potato soup was filling and flavorful, and the tubers were used to make other sweet treats from candy to donuts. Resourceful, clever, and determined, those who put food on the table using limited ingredients after the stock market crashed changed the way an entire generation looked at nourishment. I mean, they certainly proved that when you're in such a pinch that all you have is water and a pie crust, a sweet treat is still attainable.