Pecan Pie

 

                My earliest encounter with Pecan Pie occurred when I was six years old.  That was when we were living in an apartment on Highland Avenue, in St. Paul, Minnesota.  I had really forgotten this until I decided to sit down and write about my favorite pie.

                For some special occasion or another, we ate at a restaurant close to the apartment.  When you have three children under the age of six you don’t eat out very often….. for obvious reasons.  Remember, this was before fast food restaurants were even thought of.  My folks ordered me a piece of pecan pie.  I must have liked it because I remembered eating it.  At that age, and that long ago, you have a tendency to not remember exactly what things taste like.  I also must have liked it because of what happened next.

                One night my parents had another couple over for dinner.  This was one of those nice meals where you feed the children ahead of time and put them to bed before the guests arrive.  Mother made a pecan pie.  Wasn’t that nice?  Or was it?

                It seems the pie was for the guests and us children weren’t in line for any.  Maybe we would have gotten some if there was any left over after the dinner, but when you are six years old you don’t think that far in advance.

                We were supposed to be in bed asleep.  I was at the bedroom door peeking out to see who the guests were.  It just so happened that our bedroom door was right next to the kitchen counter.  There was that pecan pie on the counter.

                After the main meal my mother went into the kitchen to serve the pecan pie.  All of a sudden, the bedroom door was opened abruptly.  My mother was standing there glaring at me.  She was fit to be tied.  It seems someone had eaten all the pecans off the top of the pie.  I refuse to name the guilty party, but I don’t recall getting a licking for the act.

                My mother was a quick thinker.  She had not announced that it was pecan pie they were having.  She moved into damage control mode and covered the pie with whipped cream and served it that way.  I never did find out what the guests’ reaction to the dessert they ate that night.  That was my introduction to pecan pie.

                Since that time, pecan pie has always been special to me.  We usually had it at Thanksgiving or Christmas.  When I moved to Florida I spent quite a bit of time at Aunt Hannah’s.  That is my grandmother’s sister.  She always had a grocery bag half full of pecans in the pantry.  She picked them up right in her yard.

                I moved into my present house 25 years ago.  The decision to buy this house was partially due, in some small way, to the seven pecan trees in the yard.  Of course, spending countless hours picking pecans off the ground was not taken into account, nor was the time needed to shell them.

                Even so, I didn’t bake pecan pies.  I had assumed they were difficult to make.  I didn’t know at that time how easy they were to make.  We usually bought them at the grocery store.

                We didn’t eat pecan pie much outside the holidays.  Sometimes there would be a church supper and someone would bring a pecan pie.  Yes, I made sure my wife and I got a piece.  That still didn’t add up to very many pieces of pecan pie each year.

                We used to always buy a pecan pie for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  When my mother moved just down the road from us seventeen years ago, she made the pies for us.   That lasted for fifteen years.  That is when my mother had a stroke and was placed in a nursing home.

                I then decided that I would make pecan pies for the holidays.  I dug out mother’s cookbooks and typed the recipe for pecan pie on my computer.  I should have stopped there.  I then copied several different recipes for pecan pie.  One of the vagaries of computers is that I have a tendency to label files pecan pie1, pecan pie2, pecan pie3, and so on.  I lost track of which recipe was which.

                My first attempt at baking pecan pies was two years ago this holiday season.  If you notice, I said pies, as in more than one pie.  After all, the frozen pie crusts come in pairs.  I might as well make a batch for two pies.

                Right away, someone is bound to observe.  Two pecan pies for three people is a lot of pecan pie.   Well, it is, and it isn’t.  I will explain in due course.

                The first holiday season I would like to blame on the recipe.  The darned thing said preheat to 375 degrees.  Well, I didn’t turn down the heat when I put the pies in.  The top of the pies were, what I would like to call, toasted.  My wife called them burned.  She left most of those pecan pies for me.  Not all at once, of course.  It took me quite some time to eat all of it.

                There are two kinds of pie filling for pecan pie.  There is the dark, runny filling that you have to scoop out with a spoon.  It all slumps into the vacant place on the pie plate where the first piece was extracted.  Hey, it still tasted pretty good.  I am of course, not referring to the toasted pecan pie.  The other kind of pie filling is sort of translucent tan.  You can cut a piece of pie and lift it out with your hand.  It stays in one piece and the remaining pie filling doesn’t slump into the pie plate.

                The pie filling the past two years was the dark, runny kind.  Somehow the pies came out toasted the second year.  I don’t know how that happened.

                This year was different.  I didn’t try to preheat the oven.  I set it at 300 degrees.  The problem came when I printed out all those recipes.  Which one was the one I had been using?  I couldn’t remember.  Probably just as well considering the results.

                The pies for Thanksgiving turned out perfect.  The top was not toasted.  Not only that, the filling was the firm, tan looking kind.  You could cut a slice and it would come off the pie plate in one piece.  Yes, which recipe was that?  Ahhhhhh, well, I forgot.  Needless to say I was quite pleased.  I made two more pies for Christmas.  Again, a miracle, they turned out perfectly.

                Again, I can hear someone saying, “That’s an awful lot of pecan pie for three people.”  Hold your horse, I haven’t come to that yet.

                So here it was Christmas Eve.  I got off work and didn’t have to go in to work at midnight that night.  In other words, I had Christmas off.  I had baking to do.  Pecan pies, nut bread, and that green Jell-O salad to make.  The only trouble was, I was tired. Too tired to do any baking.

                You have got to be thinking, now that I had the recipe for pecan pie down right, what was the big deal?  Well, you remember me telling you about the seven pecan trees in my yard?  On the average they bear nuts every other year.  I’m not counting the really nice tree next to the house.  That gave us a lot of pecans for about four years in a row.  That’s when I found out that my septic tank had problems and it was fertilizing the tree every year.  That cost me $800 to fix.

                Anyway, this year wasn’t one of those years when there were a lot of pecans.  Not only that but they don’t all fall at once.  I had used up all that fell on the ground for Thanksgiving.  That meant, yes, you guessed it, on Christmas Eve I had to go out and pick pecans off the ground for the pecan pies and the nut bread.  Not only that, I had to shell the pecans.  Neither one of those jobs are exactly my favorite jobs.  But, since it was Christmas Eve, it was “now or never.” 

                Yes, I did get the pecans picked up, shelled, and the pies made.  Yes they did turn out perfect. 

                Somebody out there has got to be asking, “What about pumpkin pie?”  Well, that is a bit odd.  You see, my son is not all that keen on pecan pie.  The day before Christmas there was a pumpkin pie that turned up in the fridge.  It was store bought.  It also had a note on it that said, “Do not touch.  Patrick’s.”  I was a bit incensed about this and said something to my wife.  To my amazement, she told me that it was what Patrick wanted as a Christmas present.  That meant it was his.  I was flabbergasted that he had found a way to keep a pumpkin pie to himself.  Oh well, that meant that the pecan pies were just for the two of us.

                I had admired a friend’s entry to a BBQ contest a couple of months ago.  As a result he insisted on smoking a pork roast for me for Christmas dinner.  He came over to the house to deliver the pork roast on Christmas Day.  In return I gave him one of the pecan pies I had made the day before.  It was like saying goodbye to an old friend (the pie, I mean).

                Christmas night I was back to work.  Much to my surprise that same pie came to work with my friend’s wife, who was on my shift.  She explained that her husband didn’t eat pecan pie, neither did her son, so she brought it to work to share with the rest of the shift (eight people).

                There was some pie left at eight the next morning and we left it for the day shift.  When I came back that next night there was a note on the cleaned pie tin, “delicious.”  I guess that is as good a compliment as anyone could ask for.

                I am ready for Thanksgiving to roll around again.  Yep, I sure do like pecan pie.  Let’s hope the pecan trees in the yard are more accommodating this year.

               

  Tom Sparkman   January 18, 2004