Among Great Depression recipes, “hard times pie” seems dire, while its other name, “water pie,” sounds like a practical joke. Plain water, along with sugar, flour, butter, and a little vanilla, transform into a translucent custard. “I think a lot of Depression-era cooking was really quite genius,” says Genevieve Yam, an editor at Epicurious who also worked as a pastry chef. As the pie heats in the oven, the sugar melts, the butter emulsifies, and the flour leaches just enough starch to bind the whole mixture. “These cooks had to have some knowledge of baking science,” Yam says. “That ingenuity and desire to be more efficient in how you cook applies today, especially in a pandemic era and with inflation being what it is right now.”

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