This depression-era dessert is sure to satisfy a sweet tooth, and costs less than $3 to make.

By Darcy Lenz
Updated August 18, 2020
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For nimble cooks, having limited resources presents a unique opportunity for ingenuity in the kitchen. This is certainly the case with many of the iconic depression-era recipes we have seen resurfacing in recent months. Among them is a dessert our own Nicole McLaughlin couldn’t resist giving a try: Water Pie.

What Is Water Pie?

Water Pie is an innovative dessert recipe that originated during the Great Depression. Much like the Chocolate Depression Cake we tried earlier this year, Water Pie relies on just a handful of humble ingredients—not including milk or eggs, items that were carefully rationed during the depression era—to yield an impressive treat.

Astonishingly enough, the star ingredient of this depression-era dessert is, in fact, water. That’s right, just plain old water from the tap will do fine. Beyond that, you only need a few pantry basics to complete the pie. Water, vanilla, flour, sugar, and butter come together in a deep-dish pie shell to form a decadent, creamless custard of sorts. It’s inexpensive (it cost us a total of $2.89, or $0.36 a slice, to prepare) and it requires minimal baking know-how to make.

How to Make Water Pie

Besides its bare-bone ingredients list, perhaps the most incredible thing about Water Pie is how the simple but satisfying dessert is prepared. No specialty equipment is required as you’ll assemble the filling right inside of the pie crust—all you really need is measuring cups/spoons, a pie plate, and your ingredients.

You’ll start with a deep dish pie shell, which you can make from scratch or save yourself a few minutes and buy one from the freezer section of the grocery store. (Our favorite brand is Mrs. Smith’s.) Once you have your unbaked pie shell ready, you’ll pour your water on into it. From there, you’ll drizzle vanilla extract evenly over top of the water, followed by a mixture of flour and sugar. The final touch is five tablespoons of butter placed on top of the water filling. All that’s left to do from here is bake, chill, and serve.

To try making Water Pie for yourself, see the complete recipe Nicole references in the video above: Water Pie– Recipe from the Great Depression

Nicole’s Takeaways

Nicole admits she was skeptical going in, but after trying the Water Pie recipe above, she was shocked at how well the pie turned out. She describes the flavor as buttery, sugary, and pleasantly simple.

According to Nicole, the Water Pie’s texture is what is likely to be the tipping point for most people, as it is somewhat gelatinous. However, if you’re a fan of a Classic Chess Pie, you may find that Water Pie hits similar notes.

For her final tip, Nicole suggests dressing the water pie up with whipped cream and fresh berries to make this low-cost, low-effort dessert absolutely company-worthy.