Cooking Through The Nature of the Feast: The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny

Easter has come to Three Pines! In this time of resurrection and renewal, one of the owners of the local B&B has decided to advertise the services of an unwitting guest as a spiritualist. Jeanne Chauvet thought she was there for a holiday, so she is rather bemused to find herself leading a Friday night séance for our beloved Three Pines residents.

When it’s decided that the affair lacks the proper level of spookiness, the abandoned Hadley house—which regular readers will know as a place of grief and danger—is proposed as a more suitable venue. It all seems like creepy, innocent fun…until one of the guests at the séance drops dead from terror.

Miles away, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surêté du Québec is enjoying a visit from his son, Daniel, and Daniel’s family, recently relocated to Paris for work. When he reads of the death in the papers, he isn’t surprised to receive the summons from his superior and best friend, Michel Brebeuf, to investigate whether a murder has been committed.

He returns to the village of which he’s immensely fond, team members—trustworthy or otherwise—in tow. But politics in the Surêté are rearing their ugly head, as repercussions from the long-ago Arnot case are haunting Gamache as surely as the Hadley house looms over Three Pines.

I really enjoyed this installment of the Gamache series, particularly the parallels between the mysterious death and the political machinations threatening Gamache’s career. I will admit that, as with the prior book, I felt it fairly easy to deduce whodunnit, based on means, motive, and opportunity, but it wasn’t quite as obvious as in A Fatal Grace. Which isn’t meant to detract at all from how good The Cruelest Month is! As always, Louise Penny’s astute and sensitive observations regarding relationships and emotions make this the kind of novel celebrated for its keen insight into humanity, regardless of genre.

Anyway, our recipe options for this book were “Sugar Pie,” “Baked Beans in Molasses and Pork Rinds,” and “Coq Au Vin With A Hint Of Maple.” I was in the mood for a dessert this week (though if we’re being perfectly honest, I’m usually in the mood for dessert every week), so I decided to try out the recipe for “Sugar Pie”:

Sugar Pie

*Makes 8 servings


One 9-inch (23-cm) unbaked pie shell, homemade or store-bought 

1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream 

¾ cup (85 g) packed dark muscovado or dark brown sugar 

¼ cup (60 ml) maple syrup 

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour 

2 large eggs 


1. Prebake the pie shell: Whether using homemade or store-bought, be sure the rolled out shell is chilled, not frozen. With the rack in the center position, preheat the oven to 375°F (191°C). Poke the bottom of the shell with the tines of a fork at least 20 times. Bake the shell until the edges are light golden brown and the bottom is very lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Many recipes suggest lining the shell with foil and filling it with beans or pie weights. This is unnecessary if you check the pie shell halfway through baking and use the same fork to poke down any bubbles that have formed during baking. Remove the shell and cool to room temperature. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F (177°C). 

2. Make the filling: Pour the heavy cream into a small saucepan and over medium-low heat just until the edges are bubbling. Pour the cream into a bowl, add the sugar, and whisk until smooth. Add the maple syrup, flour, and eggs and whisk until smooth. 

3. Pour the filling into the prebaked shell and bake at 350°F (177°C) oven just until the center barely jiggles when you shake the pie pan, about 40 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a cooling rack completely before serving. The pie can be stored at room temperature for up to 1 day.


First of all, I love that the recipe was quite blasé about using a store-bought crust and not weighting it when pre-baking. That said, since the package I bought from the store came with two crusts—and I was rather enamored with the photo in the cookbook, which clearly shows a crust on top of the filling as well—I decided to make it an encased pie instead of open-faced (neither of which is, I’m sure, the standard baker’s lingo). As you can see from the pictures, it didn’t go in or come out of the oven the prettiest, but once cut and served with some homemade whipped cream, it was definitely the way to go—for me, at least, as I do like a crusty pie. 

Taste-wise, this was very much like a nut-free version of pecan pie, which is easily one of my favorite desserts. This straightforward, unpretentious but delightfully tasty recipe will definitely find its place on my shelf of go-to desserts—much in the same way that the Inspector Gamache series is making its home in my list of mystery must-reads.

Next week: two tasty treats accompany A Rule Against Murder—a homemade lemonade and a Tarte Poire Helene! Tell me how you’re doing as you cook along with me from The Nature of The Feast, Louise Penny’s free cookbook accompaniment to her bestselling Inspector Gamache series.

Check out last week's “Bûche de Noël (Traditional “Yule Log” Christmas Cake)” from A Fatal Grace!


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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She
microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.

Read all posts by Doreen Sheridan for Criminal Element.

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