Coconut pie serves up memories, and new hope for Colonial Inn – Zacki Murphy

Zacki Murphy
Zacki Murphy

My first professional position was as the Sunday hostess at Hillsborough’s landmark Colonial Inn built in 1838. Our home, “Seven Hearths,” at 157 E. King St., was close enough to walk to work.

I was a teen and had the job of standing mostly outside, in wobbly heels with a legal pad in hand, jotting down the names and estimated times to seat guests. There was always a long line. The inn was a destination, especially for the “after-church” crowd.

This was during the Anne and Chick Crawford ownership days. My pay was something in the amount of $4 per shift.

A late lunch with the charming Anne Crawford always concluded with a dish of homemade vanilla ice cream, just made that morning. If they ran out, the second option was “Granny Thompson’s Buttermilk Coconut Pie.” The latter beloved dessert was later tweaked by me for usage in “Martha Stewart’s Menus for Entertaining.”

I worked with Martha, in the early days as a food stylist and menu planner and often brought her recipes from home. Later, this coconut pie, yet with another tweak, was served in my Lexington style BBQ joint in New York City during the middle 1990s.

I am thrilled to see that the Colonial Inn has been purchased with the good intention of raising her up from her state of neglect. Tommy Roberts, owner of the Inn at Teardrops next door, probably slept with a fire extinguisher by his bed, concerned that his building, and that whole block of West King Street, would burn down along with the Colonial Inn.

There was a time when I proudly drove new friends around my hometown of Hillsborough. As I approached the inn, sometimes, I just had to put on blinders and divert their glances from the decaying, eyesore of this once popular landmark. Even though it may take years of calculated reconstruction, there is new hope. I will be able to point out and explain that with patience, vision and resources, an ancient place can be restored and given new life.

The Allied DevCorp LLC, a Durham based business, is the new owner. They plan to preserve what they can of the old structure and turn it into a boutique hotel, restaurant and event space. This is indeed a new breath of fresh air and an exciting future for the Colonial Inn.

Don’t wait for the inn to open, however, before trying out one of their signature desserts. Here is my version of a delicious and rather addictive pie. And you won’t have to crack open a fresh coconut with a hammer on your mother’s kitchen counter – with pieces scattering from the dog’s water bowl to the couch.

Zacki Murphy of Zacki's Culinary Creations traveled the world as a Ford model and worked with her friend, Martha Stewart, as a food stylist offering her knowledge of “The South”: South Vietnam, South America, South Africa, South of France, and most of all, her beloved South of North Carolina.

Zacki’s Take: The Colonial Inn’s Coconut/Buttermilk Pie


1/2 stick salted butter

1 cup brown sugar

2 eggs

1/3 cup buttermilk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1/2 cup fresh or frozen unsweetened coconut

1 unbaked pie shell


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a food processor, combine the butter and sugar.

3. Add lemon juice and lemon zest.

4. Mix until well combined.

5. Pulse in the coconut and blend.

6. Pour into pie crust and bake for approximately 30 minutes.

7. Remove pie from oven and make sure the custard is set.

8. Take a deep breath, inhale the aroma, enjoy and share with family and friends!