Experiment #7: Vinegar Pie

As luck would have it, we're featuring another North Carolinian delicacy on the blog this week. 

A greasy, half-baked, unwholesome, totally unpalatable relic of a long dead era, Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) represented the great state of North Carolina for 30 years before dropping dead at the overripe age of 86. Probably as a result of having to eat his wife's Vinegar Pie.

...we wish that were a euphemism. 

Vinegar pie, much like Sen. Helms, is a Depression-era invention that long outstayed its welcome. Vinegar pie belongs to a genus of "desperation pies," which feel aptly named—only the desperate would flavor a dessert with vinegar and margarine. 

But before we plumb the depths of Mrs. Helms' obvious culinary contempt for her husband and their guests, let us first explore the career of a man once called "Senator No" for his penchant for obstructing legislation and presidential appointees—and not, as we had assumed, for his answer to the question "Are Blacks and Gays People?"

Steadfastly opposed to both the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, Helms defected from the Democratic to the Republican Party in 1972 due to the Democrats' support for legislated integration, affirmative action, and other pansy pinko values. He spent the next four decades doing his level best to hammer the final nail into Abraham Lincoln's coffin. 

We know what you're thinking—this Helms guy sounds like a Grade-A wang. But ask yourself this: would a bad guy have successfully blocked the ratification of the UN Treaty Against Genocide? 

Fortunately, Sen. Helms' legacy is far more nuanced and multi-faceted than his more infamous outbursts would suggest.

lol jk Jesse Helms is a moonfaced tubesock of hot compost.

In one of the prouder moments of his career, Helms led a 16-day filibuster to oppose making Martin Luther King, Jr. Day a federal holiday. He also filibustered anti-apartheid legislation and the renewal of the Voting Rights Act (but denied either was motivated by racism).

Remember, folks: doing and saying racist things doesn't make you a racist. It's all about what you believe in your blackened, tobacco-engorged elephant heart.  

...Helms wasn't a big fan of gay people, either. In 1988, he introduced an amendment to a fiscal appropriations bill to prevent federal funding from going to AIDS research. ''We have got to call a spade a spade," he said. "And a perverted human being a perverted human being.''

...nor was he super duper into women (Helms opposed both the Equal Rights Amendment and Title IX) or feminists. "We must reverse the trend," Helms said, "that says that women must be liberated from the dignity of motherhood and from femininity of her natural development."

...OK, he also hated Communists, and described Augusto Pinochet's murderous populist regime as "motivated by high religious and philosophical principles and concern for his people."

Q. Was there anyone this guy liked?

A. You mean besides proto-fascist dictators? Nah. 

Source: The Jesse Helms Center for People Who Kept the Receipts
When he wasn't obstructing every piece of legislation that didn't align with Victorian family values, folksy Uncle Jesse loved serenading his female colleagues in elevators.

"He saw me standing there," Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun recounted at a National Urban League Dinner, "and he started to sing, 'I wish I was in the land of cotton . . . ' And he looked at Sen. [Orrin] Hatch and said, 'I'm going to make her cry. I'm going to sing 'Dixie' until she cries.'"

Don't worry, though—according to the Jesse Helms Center, "there was no ill intent."

We're glad Jesse Helms is dead. But don't get mad at us, because we say that with no ill intent. 

Step 1. Buy sticks(?) of margarine
Photos now with PROFESSIONAL LIGHTING aka we moved the $19.99 standing lamp from our living room into the kitchen.

Did you know margarine comes in sticks? Dorothy Helms does. She asks for them by name.

This may be the most dire ingredient shot we've taken yet. No salt. No sour cream. No condensed soup.

All of the flavoring in this pie comes from the vinegar and the vanilla—and the stick of melted margarine, of course.

Combine your stagnant pool of Believe-It's-Not with the sugar BEFORE you add the rest of the ingredients because reasons.

Step 2. Add gratuitous amounts of vinegar and vanilla

Throw a Gollum-sized palmful of flour in the bowl, then add your flavoring: two tablespoons of vinegar.

We suspect Dorothy's going for some kind of drugstore-perfume knockoff of Lemon Meringue here.

"Like citrus? You'll LOVEsettle for the tangy zip of distilled white vinegar!"

Don't worry. Plenty of time to mellow out thosethat flavors thanks to the also two tablespoons of vanilla extract. 

We've never had to unscrew the dispensing cap from the vanilla extract before. We're not sure this is the right occasion.
We love vanilla as much as the next palate-stunted Midwesterner, but this seems like an ill-advised amount. 

Step 3: Remember your whisking technique 

We've barely started, and we already pretty much have a pie. Just add three beaten eggs and get a sweet-ass action shot: 

And dump unceremoniously into your other ingredients.

Crack those Hamm's and take a brief moment to contemplate the kind of food it would take to curdle a man's soul. 

This mixture smells like a darkroom—it has the acid whiff of old photo-developing chemicals.

It's an odor that really "primes the pump" [TOPICAL].

Step 4. Prick your pie crust
crust stigmata. 

Liz has never made a pie (we’re not big bakers), but she thinks maybe you’re supposed to prick the crust with a fork? That's a thing, right?

She maybe overdid it a little. But the dewy, pasty dough looked a lot like Jesse Helms.

Step 5. ...Bake?

Dorothy instructed us to pour the mixture into an unbaked pie shell and then “bake at 325° for 45 minutes or until custard is set.”

Spoiler alert: the custard will never set.

This pie baked for 80 minutes and was still nowhere close to being done. We seriously began to wonder if there was something wrong with our oven, so we turned it up to 350° for another 10 minutes. Still nothing.

No matter how the warm air tried to coax it into something sweet, the pie resolutely refused to change.

This is a dessert truly befitting Sen. Helms.

NSFW Pie Hole

See what we mean? That exterior looks downright crisp. But apply the slightest pressure, and it crumbles like a racist’s sense of self-worth skin of ice on a spring-thawed pond.

Again, this pie baked for 80 minutes—10 at a higher temperature than the recipe called for—and was still a fatty, grainy, mulpy mess of wet egg and congealed sugar.

We waited an hour for it to cool, hoping it might set up. It didn’t.

Getting an even, pie-shaped piece out of the tin was like cranelifting a whale into a new pool. It took a series of short, tentative movements with a lot of precarious wobbling and a lot of horrified stares from bystanders.


Sheen level: Emilio Estevez

We don’t make a lot of custards, but we’re reasonably sure this isn’t “set.” The closest thing in texture to this we can think of is tapioca pudding, but that seems unfair to tapioca. This has the texture of glistening egg curds. It slid across the plate, leaving a greasy trail in its wake. It has a fatty mouthfeel from all that margarine and a vaguely off, vaguely citrus-y taste from the vinegar.

But hey, after 80 minutes in the oven, that crust was nice and flaky. No soggy bottoms, as Queen Mary Berry would say.

Vinegar Pie
By Mrs. Jesse (Dorothy) Helms
Adapted from the 1982 Congressional Club Cook Book

1 stick margarine
1 ½ cups sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 tablespoons vinegar
3 eggs, beaten
1 9 inch unbaked pie shell

2 cans Hamm's beer

Melt margarine. Add sugar. Then add remaining ingredients. Pour into unbaked pie shell, and bake at 325° for 45 minutes or until custard is set. Drink Hamm's beer until the custard is set. 


  1. This is amazing. What could be better than food and politics? Thank you for sacrificing your taste buds in the name of entertainment.

  2. That's what happens when your oven's a COMMUNIST.

  3. Its 2021 and I'm still glad Helms is dead (no ill intent either, of course.)