Hess Brothers Strawberry Pie (Version 1)

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I’m on my way through Allentown, PA, next week, which made me think of this legendary pie. We published this version of the recipe in our earliest version of Lost Recipes Found three years ago, and it’s still a top reader-favorite! There are several home-cook versions circulating of the pie that made Hess Brothers’ department store of Allentown, Pa, famous: miles-high, mounded with glazed fresh strawberries, and topped with whipped cream. “Hess’s pie was just plain legendary,” says Michael Lisicky, who writes about department story history. “Hess’s was always about retail theater, and this pie fit that.” When the last store closed in 1996, a long line of shoppers queued up to have their last piece of the pie. Thanks to Lisicky’s aunt, who knew the person who used to make Hess’s pies, you can now make this home-cook version using strawberry gelatin and cornstarch in the glaze. For another great version and a bit more of the Hess’s story, —try our Mile-High Strawberry Pie.

Makes one, 9 to 12- inch pie

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 4 Tbsp corn starch
  • 1, 3-oz box strawberry-flavored gelatin
  • 1 1/2 quarts fresh strawberries
  • 1 baked pie crust (9 to 12-inch)

Instructions

  1. Whisk sugar, water and corn starch over medium heat until mixture thickens, about 5 minutes.
  2. Stir in package of strawberry-flavored gelatin until incorporated.
  3. Chill mixture in refrigerator until cooled, but not hard-set
  4. While mixture is chilling, clean and hull strawberries. Fold into sweetened gel. Mound into baked crust. Refrigerate until set, about 1 hour
  5. Top with whipped cream to your liking, and garnish with whole strawberries

8 thoughts on “Hess Brothers Strawberry Pie (Version 1)

  1. I found this on another website:

    The first time Liberace performed in Allentown, PA, he ate at the local department store restaurant, and fell in love with the strawberry pie they had as a special. Every Christmas after that, Lee would order a huge amount of the pies and have them shipped to his friends as Christmas presents.

    HESS’S STRAWBERRY PIE
    8 cups whole fresh strawberries, stems removed
    10 to 12 additional strawberries with stems attached, for garnish
    1 cup confectioners’ sugar1 cup sugar
    3 Tbsps. cornstarch
    1 cup water
    12 drops red food coloring
    1 cup whipping cream
    1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
    1 tsp. vanilla
    1 9-inch baked pie crust

    Wash and stem the strawberries. Mix 6 cups of them with confectioners’ sugar. Let stand for one hour. Cook remaining 2 cups berries with water until tender and rub through a sieve. Mix granulated sugar and cornstarch and add to the strained strawberry juice. Cook until clear. Add food coloring. Let mixture cool slightly, stirring occasionally.

    Arrange whole strawberries, stem side down in the pie shell. Mound the berries in the center of the pie. Pour the cooked strawberry mixture evenly over the strawberries in the pie shell. Refrigerate until cold.

    Pour whipping cream into cold mixing bowl. Beat cream at medium-high speed until it begins to thicken. On low speed, add confectioners’ sugar and vanilla. Continue to beat until stiff, but fluffy. Whipped cream may be used as a decorating tool. Just pipe it onto the pie up to two hours before serving it. Garnish with whole strawberries, still attached to their stems. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

    Anyone for a bake-off?

    • Suzy! I love the Liberace story, and how timely, with the new Michael Douglas “Behind the Candelabra” and all. So interesting…. this recipe. The one I have that is purportedly Hess’s, uses both strawberry-flavored gelatin and corn starch as the thickeners. The one you list above uses cornstarch combined with cooked & sieved berry juice. I’ve been actually playing around with a third version based on the always reliable tests of America’s Test Kitchen. Their recipe is very similar to the one you provide above. BUT they felt that just using cornstarch with the cooked strawberry slurry resulted in too-runny a sauce. So, the use both cornstarch and pectin: for every 3/4 cup cooked puree, use a combination of 1 1/2 tsp pectin and 2 Tbsp cornstarch. I like the idea of sieving the fruit to remove any seeds etc, for a clearer binder for the fresh strawberries. So, that will be my next effort! Thanks again for the great Liberace story–please too, can you let me know the source? I would like to substantiate if that story is actually true. –MKRogers

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