Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving Pie No.2

Pecan pie like great-great-grandmother used to make was the request of “Jay” who is intrigued as to how she did it without corn syrup.
The pecan is a native of North America, and was a prized food of the Native American tribes. It was being cultivated in Mexico by Spanish settlers at least half a century before the first known planting in the future USA – in Long Island in 1772. Production of the nut on a significant commercial scale did not develop until made possible by horticultural developments in the 1880’s. The centres for this new industry were Louisiana and Texas - which perhaps explains one reader’s answer to the omission made by Ms Paddleford - that the Thanksgiving pies in the South are “pumpkin and pecan.”
This relatively late commercialisation of the nut probably explains why there is no pecan pie recipe in the considerable resources of the Feeding  America: Historic Cook Book Project . Until the 1880’s, the only source of the nut for the pie-cook was the wild tree or the occasional garden specimen. The first mention of pecan pie in the Oxford English Dictionary is quoted from Harper’s Bazaar in 1886 – “Pecan pie... The pecans must be very carefully hulled, and the meat thoroughly freed from any bark or husk … ”. There is apparently a recipe in a New Orleans cookbook of 1900 but I know not what it is.
A very short spell of research turned up the inclusion of pecans in a ‘cream’ in the Lady’s Receipt Book of 1847, and in a cake in La Cuisine Creole in 1885. No pie. A snippet in a Galveston Newspaper of July 1910 seems to suggest that pecan pie was a relatively new idea then:
“Never ate a piece of pecan pie? Lots of us are in the same fix, but those familiar with the pecan say thare is nothing more delicious than a pecan pie, which is a custard pie in which are blended the ground kernels of pecans.”
The first actual recipe I have turned up so far (until I can find the one in Harper’s Bazaar), is in an Ohio newspaper (The Piqua Daily Call) of May 3, 1915.
Texas Pecan Pie:
Cook together one cupful of sweet milk, one cupful of sugar, three well-beaten eggs, one tablespoonful of flour and one cupful of finely chopped pecan meats. Line a pie tin with rich crust, fill with the mixture, and bake until done. Whip the whites of two eggs with two tablespoonfuls of sugar until stiff, spread over the top of the pie and brown slightly in the oven, sprinkling a few chopped nuts over the top.
So, there you have it Jay – the early, pre-corn syrup pecan pie was custardy rather than caramelly. 
Quotation for the Day …
What we're really talking about is a wonderful day set aside on the fourth Thursday of November when no one diets. I mean, why else would they call it Thanksgiving?
Erma Bombeck


Anonymous said...

Wow! Thank you. Very interesting to see that this used to be a custard. It seems that the custard would be more palatable for those who do not like things that are overly sweet and want to focus on the flavor of the pecans. Also interesting to note that pecan pies were not generally known pre-20th century.

Thank you for all of your research! :) Great blog as always.

- Jay

PS: The pumpkin pie information yesterday was great too!

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

I do love pecan pie. It was one of the first pies that I was successful in making. It can be a little sweet after a heavy holiday meal, but it's well worth it!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, I'll give it a lash on Thursday.

Tamar Vart said...

Recently I've come across a few maple syrup (instead of cane syrup) recipes, a happy alternative, that will hopefully lead to a growing trend. This year we will be able to have a chocolate pecan pie (well chocolate pecan tart with a creamy coffee sauce, cause I'm nuts and cant make simple things) with slightly less guilt.