I love pecan pie.
I learned everything there is to love about pecan pie from my grandmother, Lenore, including how to say it: pih-cahn, instead of pee-CAN.
Pecan pie was her trademark.
She made it on special occasions, and maybe even not-so-special occasions. She was so deft at her craft. Under her influence, I grew to love pecan pie's salty-sweet fusion (my grandmother salted everything, and I've inherited her salt tongue). I loved how the pecans stuck in my teeth and the filling melted on my tongue. I loved the flakiness of her crusts and the richness of everything combined.
Growing up, her pies were some of the few things that could quench my raging sweet tooth.
And this year, as Thanksgiving neared and everyone started talking about pie, and pie leftovers, and eating pie for breakfast and other sinfully delicious, dairy-laden food, I developed a hankering for pecan pie. I am still not eating anything with dairy in it, so I wondered, how much dairy does pecan pie have?
Now, my mother's mother was an excellent cook, and known for her delicious pies, but she took most of her culinary secrets with her to the grave — except her recipe for pecan pie. My sister requested a copy of the recipe before my grandmother died, and my grandmother obliged. My sister later won a neighborhood pie contest with the recipe.
And guess what? It's dairy free.
I took it as a sign. I must try to make my grandmother's pie.
I am not a stranger to pie — I made rhubarb pie once before, successfully, in my opinion — and so I was not completely daunted by the prospect of making this award-winning pie. But I should have been.
In fact, my pie attempt went so poorly that it taught me a few things about myself and, by extension, my grandmother.
First of all, pecan pie is expensive.
I sent my husband to the store on Thanksgiving weekend to buy pecans so I could make and eat the pie I was craving so much, and it just so happened that a two-cup bag of pecans cost almost $9. He felt sorry for me, so he bought the nuts. But come on — $9 for nuts is, nuts.
Second, I don't really like making pies.
I put the endeavor off until well after Thanksgiving and all mention of pies were long over. I may have never made the pie except I had a $9 bag of nuts sitting in my pantry. I don’t like rolling out crust. I get nervous about it sticking on my counter, and I don't like handling shortening.
But, nevertheless, late Saturday night, as the snow pounded my driveway, I made a pie. I scooped, leveled, mixed, beat and poured, and I watched anxiously as my pie cooked in the oven.
I'll tell you next time how it came out. Hint: not well.
But in the meantime, here's the recipe as it came from my grandmother's kitchen. (Another hint: I added the parenthesis in case someone tries to make the pie and makes the same mistake as me.)
Grandma Mohler's Pecan Pie
1 cup sugar
1 cup white corn syrup
1 cup pecans
1 teaspoon. vanilla
dash of salt
Beat eggs and sugar until thick. Add syrup, nuts, vanilla. Pour into pie shell, sprinkle with salt. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes until filling is firm.
Pie Crust (makes two crusts)
3 level cups flour
1 heaping cup shortening
1/2 cup cold water
1 teaspoon salt
Cut flour, salt and shortening together. Mix with water, bit by bit. Don't add more water.
Amy Choate-Nielsen is a full-time mom and part-time writer. She writes about family history and her quest to understand life while learning about her deceased paternal grandmother, Fleeta.