Have I started making pies for the Prince of Darkness? Well, no. At least, not that I know of. "Satan may relish coffee pie," was a mnemonic phrase devised by an emigrant French professor living in Brooklyn, New York, one Franois Fauvel-Gouraud, in 1844. Gouraud had come to the United States in 1839 to promote the new photographic technology of the Daguerrotype, made public earlier that year. Unfortunately, like many first movers in new technologies, Gouraud was unable to make good on his early position. However, he rapidly bounced back. He quickly mastered American English, and promoted a different sort of technology: mnemotechnology, or the art of memory. He rapidly updated an earlier system then popular in France, and revised it to American tastes. Going on the lucrative public speaking circuit of that era, he made $20K in a single year promoting his method, roughly equivalent to $500K today. Here's a Baltimore critic, one Edgar Allan Poe, on Gouraud and his method:
It is by no means too much to say that the powers of memory, as aided by his system, are absolutely illimitable. We earnestly advise our readers to procure M. Gouraud's extraordinary work and decide in the premises for themselves.How did Gouraud's method work? (And what does it have to do with Satan and coffee pie?) Through "conditional associations". In this case, Gouraud associated the phonetic sounds of the consonants in a sentence to numerals. S (or soft C or Z) became 0, T (or D) became 1, N became 2, M became 3, R became 4, L became 5, Sh (or J or Ch) became 6, hard C (or K or hard G) became 7, F (or V) became 8, and P (or B) became 9. So "SaTaN May ReLiSH CoFFee Pie" simply becomes 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. Easy as pie.
In fact, Gouraud came up with a poem for the first hundred fifty-five digits of pi (the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter). It begins:
My deary Dolly, be no chilly My love I beg you, be my nymph...Alas, Gouraud's deary dolly predeceased him later that decade, of tuberculosis, and Gouraud soon followed her. Both are buried in Brooklyn's remarkable Green-Wood Cemetery. Finally, if I am assembling the pieces of the story correctly, Gouraud's son George later served with distinction during the American Civil War, and as Thomas Edison's agent, became the first man ever to record a musical performance, in London's Crystal Palace. As a child, Winston Churchill heard his Civil War stories. Anyway. Back to pie! That is, coffee pie. Yes, my two delights have finally converged. Warning: I was getting a little complacent in my pie-making abilities. But complacency leads to error. So while the pie ultimately turned out well, do not follow what I did verbatim. I took one cup of white sugar, two tablespoons of flour, and some small fraction of a teaspoon of salt and mixed them together in my old saucepan. I brewed a cup of strong coffee, about two-thirds of a mug, and poured that in, and poured in the same amount of milk, which made the mixture a light brown. I heated it below boiling and stirred, thickening the mixture slightly. It tasted like a really rich latte, the mouthfeel enhanced by the flour. Error analysis: I should have used more flour here, or added some starch. I saw the filling was not getting much thicker, but I assumed that the next step would take care of the problem. I let the saucepan cool for a few minutes, and added three egg yolks, keeping the egg whites for later omelette goodness. I broke the yolks and stirred them into the warm coffee mixture, which did not change its color appreciably. Putting the pan back on the burner, I heated it up again, below boiling, occasionally lifting the pan to prevent it from heating too fast, and stirred it while it thickened. A lot of bits of egg white still attached to the yolk coagulated, and I removed them with a fork. But the mixture itself did thicken, to the consistency of a light batter. I poured the mixture into a pre-fab Pillsbury frozen pie crust, and baked it for 20 minutes at 350 F (175 C). The filling hadn't set into a custard yet. I baked it for another 5 minutes. The filling still hadn't set. I baked it for another five. Still no setting. I figured this opening and closing of the oven door was causing the oven to lose heat, so I leave it in for another 10 minutes, prepared to pull it out if I smell the crust burning. Nope. The filling was still sloshing in the crust. The crust itself was still light brown, so I decided to turn the temperature up to 400 F (about 200 C), to see if the extra heat will cause the filling to solidify. It's at this point that I realize I probably should have added more flour. Ten minutes passed. I opened the oven door to see a boiling pie. The surface of a pie will occasionally rise and fall like bubbles that can't pop, but a custard filling is not supposed to boil. I pulled the pie out and wondered what to do next. I didn't think it was ruined, though I had grave doubts about the texture of the filling. After a minute of thinking hard, I decided to see if I could extract, thicken, and replace the pie filling without a catastrophic failure mode. I carefully poured the filling into another saucepan (not having washed the previous one yet). This was a little hazardous, because the pie filling was very hot, perhaps 90 C, and sticky. Looking in the saucepan, I was dismayed to see that the egg yolks had curdled inside the filling and made it grainy! I pulled out my whisk and began stirring out the curds. Better. I added a tablespoon of cornstarch to the filling, and began whisking again. This time, I could feel the starch thickening the mixture, making it more viscous, resisting the motion of the whisk. The filling at this point was smooth and light brown again. I tasted it, burning the tip of my finger getting a sample. Yes, it was smooth in the mouth as well. I poured the mixture back in the pie crust. It occupied less volume than it did when I had pulled the pie out. I think the cornstarch, in thickening the viscosity of the filling, made the material more dense. Also, I think I should have added a little milk, to bring the volume of the filling back up. Anyway. I put the pie back in the oven, and baked it for twelve minutes at 350 F (175 C) again. This time the pie came out with the filling firmly set, though somewhat diminished. I let it cool. The first slice I approached timidly. To make up for some of the pie's lost volume, I put a dollop of aerosol whipped cream on the slice, good if bizarre stuff, cut the tip off the slice and onto my fork, closed my eyes, and ate it. My repair job worked. Quite tasty. Good. In fact, real good. I dunno about that other guy, but I now relish coffee pie.