Recipe Spotlight

Like Pecan Pie? Just Wait Until You Try Virginia Peanut Pie

Virginia peanut pie is sweet and salty, creamy and crunchy. And it's easier to make than pecan pie.

Published Dec. 17, 2021.

Virginia peanut pie isn’t a dessert that appears on many menus across the nation. You won’t even find it on many menus across Virginia. But in the Tidewater region—on the eastern edge of the Commonwealth—peanut pie is legendary.

In its early days, the dessert was often referred to as the “poor man’s pecan pie.” But nothing about this pie feels like a compromise. Peanut pie achieves the right amount of sweet and salty, with crunchy, caramelized peanuts set atop a creamy filling and buttery, flaky crust. Plus, those who’ve made both claim that peanut pies are easier to make than pecan pie.

Virginia Peanut Pie

The contrasting flavors and textures of this Virginia diner specialty are easy to love. The pie is simultaneously sweet and salty, with a creamy filling tucked beneath a crunchy top. It's a lot like pecan pie but easier to make.  

“If you’re going with something like pecan pie, you’re wasting your time,” said Virginia Diner President and COO Andrew Whisler. “It doesn’t have the same kind of range and breadth of flavor . . . There’s so much more flavor explosion to a peanut than a pecan.”

The pie is a best seller at the Virginia Diner, the landmark shop and restaurant in Wakefield that aptly refers to itself as the "Peanut Capital of the World” and is only a few miles from where the first commercially produced peanuts were grown. The diner serves about 1,000 slices of pie each week.

“I’d say most people are looking for that touch of warmth, with a little bit of ice cream or whipped cream on it to really set it off,” Whisler said, adding that he prefers his peanut pie served at room temperature. He said the deliciousness of the pie all boils down to high-quality peanuts.

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Despite living in Virginia, a state well known for its gourmet legumes, I never ate peanut pie at my family gatherings in the southwestern portion of the state, nor have I found it hiding behind the glass of the local bakeries I frequent. But recently I felt the urge to embrace this dish that is unique to my home state.

Since the Virginia Diner is about a 4-hour drive from my home in Roanoke, I made the America’s Test Kitchen recipe inspired by the diner classic. The ingredient list for peanut pie is strikingly similar to that of a pecan pie, with the obvious difference being the addition of roasted salted peanuts in place of pecan halves. But since the filling doesn’t require the stovetop cooking that many pecan pie recipes advise, the finished product comes together much quicker.

Recently, Red Truck Rural Bakery’s peanut pie was named the best pie in Virginia by Food & Wine magazine. The bakery, located in Marshall, serves an amped-up version of the pie, complete with coconut and chocolate cake crumbs. 

“I wanted something local and quirky that disappeared for a while,” said bakery owner Brian Noyes. “With the chocolate and the coconut, it edges it toward candy bar territory, but without being really thick and cloying.”

The first bite into a Virginia peanut pie made me wonder how I've spent nearly 30 years without it. And to all the pecan pie fanatics out there: Don't fret. This is not meant to be a replacement but a dessert that is different enough to stand on its own. I certainly know there is enough room in my heart—and stomach—for both.   

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