Friday, November 25, 2005

Paean to Pecan Pie

I hope everyone who celebrates it had a Happy Thanksgiving. I had an excellent, semi-lazy day myself, thank you. And during the preparations and the celebration thereof, I came to the realization that I have definite purist tendencies when it comes to food.

I am a Southerner, which means food has meaning beyond mere nourishment. And that there are certain things that food Should be. Mashed potatoes, for instance, should involve actual potatoes, the kind you have to peel, cut up, boil and then mash. Sweet potatoes are vegetables. And they are perfectly delicious just as they are--maybe with some butter once they're baked. They're better with a little texture and substance, not obliterated into some baby food puree. If you want to gussy them up some, a nice glaze over thick slices is good--honey and lime juice makes a great glaze. They don't need to be turned into candy with brown sugar and marshmallows. Yeah, we had sweet potatoes with that glaze for Thanksgiving.

The food that tends to bring out my purist tendencies the most, however, is pecan pie. (The correct pronunciation of which is pe-CAN. The other way refers to cans of peas, not the perfect nut.)

Pecan pie is the quintessential Southern dessert, as far as I am concerned. Yes, banana pudding and coconut cake with lemon filling and buttermilk pie (which I am inordinately fond of as well) are all genuine Southern desserts, but there's just something about a pecan pie...

And people just keep messing with it, when the original is already perfection. A pecan pie needs a plain, short pastry crust, and a filling with corn syrup, butter, sugar (brown or white, either one), eggs and pecans. Nothing else. Well, okay, a little rum or bourbon for flavor is acceptable. But no chocolate. No pumpkin. No coconut or cream cheese or other adulterants.

Pecan pie should be gooey, not gummy-sticky (like those disgusting things they sell at convenience stores, with their ground pecans and doughey crust). The filling below the pecans should be translucent, almost transparent, and the pecans should preferably be halves. I know sometimes it's hard to get those big pieces out of the shells whole, but the pieces should as big as possible. The crust should be brown and flaky. Storebought pie crusts that you unroll and lay in the pan are perfectly acceptable. Lord knows, the Pillsbury Doughboy makes better pie crust than I do.

This year's pie turned out absolutely perfect. Which is why I only make one per year. Because by this time next week, I will doubtless have eaten the whole thing by myself, alas. It's all I can do to limit myself to one piece per day.

Hmm. Maybe I should wax this poetic about my writing, ya think?

What brings out your purist tendencies?

2 comments:

CE Murphy said...

I can't believe you went on that long about the perfect pecan pie and didn't post the recipe. I'll give you my very easy very excellent pie crust recipe if you'll give me your pecan pie recipe. :)

I have a journal posting similar to this one regarding the perfect lemon cake. :)

Gail Dayton said...

Here's the pie recipe:

Pecan Pie for Purists

Cream 1/4 cup butter or margarine and 1/2 cup sugar till fluffy. Add 1 cup dark or light corn syrup and 1/4 teaspoon salt; beat well. Add 3 eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in 1 cup pecan halves. Pour into UNBAKED 9-inch pastry shell. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minures or till knife comes out clean. Cool.

(Actually, I usually have to bake it for a full hour. You really don't want it jiggly in the middle...and I don't mind brown pie crust. In fact, I kind of prefer it.)