I try to avoid food-writer cliches, but it is legitimately hard for me to not talk about my grandmother. It’s been particularly challenging recently, because she lived a life that would have been virtually unchanged by this pandemic. She rarely left the house—due to mobility issues, we hired someone to do her shopping—she didn’t care for visitors, and most of the food the enjoyed was freezer-friendly or shelf-stable.
looking through this and realizing my grandmother would have dominated the quarantine cooking game pic.twitter.com/AAmLHNu8ev
— Claire Lower (@clairelizzie) April 15, 2020
Jewel was an only child who thrived in solitude, and she really, truly did not want anyone in her (quite large) house. Her husband was grandfathered in to her whole system, but he let her decorate and arrange every room exactly how she wanted it, and spent most of his free time mowing the lawn, watching football, or quietly reading westerns on the couch. My dad, my sisters and I were obviously welcome, though I believe she enjoyed us best one at a time, and for a finite number of days. She felt mildly guilty about this, but I get it. (Three days is the longest I can stand having another human in my apartment, even one I’m deeply in love with.)
Jewel hated cooking and grew up poor, which made her a sort of food hacker before the term even existed. “Recipes from Grandmother Jewel” is full of condensed soup, Jell-O, and cake mixes, save for a few anomalies like deviled eggs (called “stuffed eggs” for some reason) and meatloaf. But a vast majority of the recipes—like this pie, for instance—would be unaffected by panic-induced shortages.
Many of you may recognise this pie for what it is—dulce de leche poured into a pastry shell—and that is what makes it very “Jewel.” It’s unapologetically easy, tooth-achingly sweet, and completely lacking in subtlety. It stares at you, daring you to question its legitimacy, while giving you permission to spoon an entire can of caramelised dairy directly into your mouth. “Are mouthfuls of dulce de leche really something you want to avoid?” it demands.
If it all seems too much, too indecent, too sweet, you can throw stuff into the caramel. I remember my maternal grandmother (Rita) making a version of this pie with slice bananas for a banoffee sorta deal, but fresh apple would work too. Chopped up Snickers bars wouldn’t temper the sweetness, but salty peanuts might. I didn’t add anything to the filling, but I did sprinkle on stray bits of pretzel crust, along with some Maldon. You can also splash a little vanilla or booze into the filling, if you have any of that lying around.
You can boil the can of sweetened condensed milk as Jewel did, or you can use an Instant Pot.
To make this pie, you will need:
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon of vanilla or your favourite alcohol (I used Applejack)
Any add-ins you want, like banana slices or chopped up candy bars
If you are making the dulce de leche on the stove, simply submerge the unopened can in a pot full of water and boil for three hours, checking every once in a while to make sure it stays submerged. If you’re using your Instant Pot, open the can, wrap it tightly in aluminium foil, and place it on a metal trivet inside the Instant Pot insert. Add water to the insert until it reaches halfway up the can, close the Instant Pot, and cook under high pressure for 50 minutes. Once the cooking time has elapsed, release the pressure manually, open the pot, and carefully remove the can with tongs. Let it cool for at least 10 minutes, then transfer to a bowl, add extracts or alcohol if using, and stir until smooth.
If you are adding fruit, arrange it in the cooled pie shell, then pour the caramel over the fruit. Smooth out the top if needed, let cool to room temp, then transfer to the fridge until chilled. Slice, serve, and enjoy with a large glass of milk (if you can find milk).
I am always looking for excuses to put sour cream in and around my mouth. I consume it all the usual ways (tacos, nachos, dips), but I’ve also been known to add it to leftover pasta (yes, even a tomato-based sauce!) and scoop it into my face with nacho cheese Doritos. This is why it’s surprising to me that I’ve never thought to add it to caramel.