For the holidays, a pumpkin dessert is a given. Some folks don't care for the fruit of the orange gourd, however, so many hosts offer a second sweet. In Texas, that often means pecan pie.
This is natural since the pecan is the official state nut. Many Texans have a tree or two in their yards, and pecans are an important commercial crop.
There is more than one recipe for pecan pie, but in Texas it typically includes corn syrup (which is to say, Karo). In the '80s, bourbon pecan pies were in vogue. More recently, chocolate pecan pies are enjoying the limelight.
My favorite is a molasses pecan pie that I began making in the early '70s, when I lived in New York City. My daughter attended Public School No. 41 in Greenwich Village, and, each year, the school's PTA held a potluck supper. I needed a dish that could be made the night before and was easy to transport. I also wanted something Texan.
Pecan pie seemed to fill my requirements. I dug up an old recipe that called for equal amounts of dark and light Karo; then I remembered a magazine article I had read that lauded a pecan pie made by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Yearling . As I recalled, the secret of her pie was molasses.
I made two pies, following my old recipe but substituting molasses for the dark Karo. They were a hit with the New Yorkers (who pronounced pecan as PEEK-in, or even worse, PEE-can). Texas pecan pie became my regular contribution to PTA suppers, and I made it for gatherings of my block association.
Since returning to Texas, I have seldom made pecan pie, but I decided to look for Ms. Rawlings' original recipe.
I found copies of her cookbook, Cross Creek Cookery, on Amazon.com, and several blurbs with the listings mentioned that the book contained the recipe for her "famous pecan pie." Hardcover copies were selling for $40 or more, but a 1996 softcover reprint was only a few dollars.
As promised, the book has a pecan pie recipe. It doesn't use molasses, however. Only pure cane syrup. Miss Rawlings, who lived in Florida, called it Utterly Deadly Southern Pecan Pie and provided this description:
"It is more overpowering than English treacle pie, which it resembles in texture, for to the insult of the cooked-down syrup is added the injury of rich pecan meats. It is a favorite with folks who have a sweet tooth, and fat men in particular are addicted to it."
I tested the recipe, and she didn't exaggerate. It is startlingly sweet. A sliver was all I could eat.
Molasses pecan pie is still my favorite. The filling tastes richer but also less sweet than one made with only corn syrup. The recipe here was adapted from one on the Texas Pecan Growers Web site, www.tpga.org. The site offers recipes for a wide variety of pecan dishes.
Ms. Rawlings' recipe is online at dallasnews.com. Try it if you dare.
Waltrina Stovall is a Dallas freelance writer.
Preheat oven to 400 F. Mix eggs, sugar, salt, corn syrup, molasses, butter and vanilla. Add pecans and pour into prepared pie shells.
Place in oven and immediately reduce heat to 350 F. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until filling is firm and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool before serving.
Makes 2 pies. Each pie makes 12 servings.
Note: To make a rim of stars on the pie crust, use a small star cookie cutter (available at Cake Carousel and other kitchen and crafts stores) to cut shapes out of a premade crust. Roll a sheet of aluminum foil into a tube, place it on a baking sheet, and lay the stars over it so that they curl. Bake the stars separately from the pie at 350 F for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden. Use Karo syrup to attach stars to the perimeter of the crust.
PER SERVING: Calories 201 (42% fat) Fat 10 g (1 g sat) Chol 37 mg(( Sodium 144 mg Trace fiber Carbohydrates 28 g Protein 2 g
SOURCE: Adapted from the Texas Pecan Growers Web site, www.tpga.org
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. Beat eggs well, and slowly pour in syrup. Add vanilla and pecan meats.
Pour into the pie shells and bake about 45 minutes or until set. Each pie makes 16 servings.
PER SERVING: Calories 167 (50% fat) Fat 9 g (2 g sat) Cholesterol 30 mg Sodium 83 mg Trace fiberCarbohydrates 20 g Protein 2 g
SOURCE: Cross Creek Cookery
NUTS TO YOU
Pecans are grown mostly in the South and Southwest, and Texas is one of the top three states, along with Georgia and New Mexico. The leading state changes from year to year, according to Blair Krebs, a spokeswoman for the Texas Pecan Growers Association in Bryan. She explains that pecans are an "alternate-bearing crop," meaning a tree's output may vary widely from year to year. Last year, Texas was No. 1, with 47 million tons.