Sunday, November 23, 2008

My Pecan Pie

I'm a southern lady at heart and by birthright. And although my family may not have been some weird religious nuts with distinctive black and white modest dress sense who crashed on Plymouth Rock back in the old fashioned days, The Castons have been rocking it here since well, since before the revolution. You know what revolution I'm talking about. That does not make me better or worse, nor any more or less American than you.

I do know one thing though: southern lady cooks are often a passionate sort and prone to pride, especially when it comes to their pies. It's a cultural thing. I'm no exception. My grandmother Keeter on my mother's side (we just called her Nana) was a terrific cook and could whip up a batch of chicken n' dumplings without messing up her new manicure while making the dough or bake a pie with her eyes closed. Ditto for my Grandmother Caston (Meemaw, that's what we called her). And my Aunt. And my Mother. And well, you name it.

And although my mother makes a mean Lemon Chess pie, a delightful Pumpkin Chiffon, and is one of the finest bakers and makers of just about any other dessert you might name, I think my pecan pie is better than hers. There, I've said it. Sorry Mom, I love you, and your pecan pie is mighty fine, but it is just too rich. I mean, I adore the fact that you don't use that nasty corn syrup crap in yours, but an all brown sugar sweetened filling is just too sweet for my taste buds. It's so sweet it hurts. And not in a good way.

So here I present my version of perfection, still based on Mom's recipe but a little bit better: Lizzy Caston's true Southern Pecan Pie.

Some factoids:
  1. Pecans are native to North America, roughly west of the Mississippi and South of the Mason Dixon
  2. Early Spanish and British explorers took the pecan from the New World back to the Old World and in places as far away as Asia in the 1600s, but pecans never really caught on outside of America.
  3. Pecan trees are a type of Hickory tree, and the wood is much valued in furniture, for flooring and in smoking meats, especially hams.
Now, onto the pie. I have been perfecting this recipe ever since I started baking at the tender age of 12. It has taken me years, and after a deviation from my Mom's recipe, and then into a bad phase of using corn syrup (gasp!), I finally found this recipe. It comes from one of my favorite food writers of all time: John Thorne. If you haven't read his books, you should. They will make you a better cook and a more informed eater. I promise. Plus, Thorne's recipes are flawless.

So what's so special about Lizzy's Damn Pecan Pie? It's honest. It's simple. It contains no foods with weird ingredients like Crisco, "Vanilla Flavoring" or HFCS. It is rich without being overwhelming or cloyingly sweet. It is velvety, and nutty and buttery and crumbly all at once. It honors Southern cooking at its core. It's damn American, that's what. Happy Thanksgiving!

The secrets? An all butter crust using the best butter your can find, high quality pecans, fresh eggs, real vanilla extract and a splash of bourbon. That would be SOUTHERN whiskey from Kentucky. Although any old dark moonshine will do. It just adds a little something extra. I think people from Louisiana might say, lagniappe. Hell yeah.

Oh, but the biggest tip? Use cane syrup in lieu of corn syrup. Yep. Cane Syrup. Made from sugar cane. It used to be a standard ingredient in the U.S., and is still easy to find in the South where it is cheap, as well as England. It gives the pie just what it needs without that nasty corn syrup film on the tongue and chemical taste. I like this brand which you can find at New Seasons in Portland or in any store that has it's own "British Foods" isle. Sure, it's expensive, but I don't care. I will not compromise on my pecan pie.

Make sure to bake gently and bake with love. Don't over bake. When a knife inserted in the center just comes out clean, you know it's done.

Miss Lizzy's Pecan Pie with Cane Syrup

makes 2, 9" pies

1 1/4 cups cane syrup such as Steen's 100% cane syrup of Lyle's syrup

1 cup light brown sugar

4 eggs

4 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 Tbs. Bourbon

2 cups coarsely broken pecan pieces

2 9" unbaked pie crusts

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Bring syrup and sugar to a boil in a medium saucepan and allow to boil for 2 or 3 minutes. Let syrup cool slightly while preparing the rest of the ingredients. Add butter to syrup and stir. Let cool until warm, but not cool. If the syrup is too warm it will cook the eggs and you don't want that because then you will have a sweetened scrambled egg pie with pecans and that is just gross. Beat eggs well, and slowly pour into lukewarm syrup, stir with a big spoon or rubber spatula to incorporate. Add vanilla, Bourbon and pecan meats.

Pour into the pie shells and bake about 45 minutes or until set. While the pie is baking I like to lick the extra filling left in the bowl. Disgusting? Naw, just delicious.

Each pie makes 16 servings.

Serve with a dollop of unsweetened or lightly sweetened whipped cream if you wish. Why unsweetned whipped cream? I don't know, it's just the way I grew up with it and the way I like it best.


mediaChick said...

Thank you, Lizzy! It sounds delicious.

Bob said...

I used this recipe last week and found it to be wonderful. Keep up the pie work.

Robin said...

I will try this recipe tomorrow, I sell Ribbon Cane Syrup and Moonshine Syrup in my Country Store outside of Mineola Texas, and am holding an open house on Friday, Dec 5, I will have pleanty of Cane Syrup there for sale. If yall are in East Texas, look me up. Robin's Nest Country Store. Come on by, sit a spell. Glad to have found your recipe. I've had alot of customers wanting it, now I can hand them a copy.

Lizzy Caston said...

Thanks for all the nice comments everyone.

Bob, I'm glad it turned out well. Like I said in the post, I've worked diligently over the years to perfect this recipe.

Robin, it's so nice to hear from someone all the way down there in Texas! I will look you up next time I am in East Texas. I would experiment a bit however with the pie recipe and the Ribbon or Moonshine syrups since they can be a bit more intense (read molasses like) than the Lyle's brand. Regardless, do stay in touch.

Happy Holidays,

Lizzy, Gretchen and LeAnn (Portland Pie Commissioners)