Friday, October 21, 2011

The Pecan

The pecan is a species of hickory, and is indigenous to the American continent. Its name is derived from the Algonquian paccan, indicating a nut that is hard to crack. Thankfully, the shell of the cultivated nut is thinner, and hence easier to open, thanks to the efforts of horticulturalists over the last couple of hundred years.

That the pecan originated in the Americas is indisputable. The botanical name for the tree is Carya illinoinensis, from which it might be assumed that it hails specifically from the State of Illinois. This may be true, or it may not. It may be from Oklahoma, or Texas, or Mexico. It may be from somewhere in between. Almost certainly it is from somewhere in the southern/central part of the continent, and we must be happy with that, for now. 

Whichever exact area the pecan originated in, the state of Texas has nominated the pecan as its official nut. The state of Oklahoma gives pecan pie the honour of being one of its official state foods – although most of the recipes I have come across seem to indicate that pecan pie is a specialty of Texas. I leave my American friends and colleagues to sort that one out. 

In the meantime, I give you two quite different versions of pecan pie.

Pecan Pie.
 Cook in a double boiler one cupful of milk and one cupful of sugar. Thicken with one tablespoonful of flour and yolks of three eggs, then add juice of one lemon and one-half cupful of chopped pecan meats. Bake crust as for lemon pie; when done fill with the nut custard, frost with the whites of the eggs and brown slightly.
Good housekeeping: Volume 51, October, 1910

Pecan Pie.
2 eggs
½  cup sugar
½  cup karo (white)
¼  cup butter
¾ cup shelled pecans.
1 teaspoonful vanilla. -
Beat eggs with wire whip until very light. Then add butter which has been melted nd mixed with the sugar. To this add the karo and vanilla. Mix thoroughly, then stir in the nuts.
Pour into a baked pie crust and bake in slow oven until set, about one hour.
Laredo Times, Jan 18, 1929

Quotation for the Day.
Never order food in excess of your body weight
Erma Bombeck


Les said...

Wow, pecans always make me nostalgic. I live in north east Oklahoma and we have a pecan grove in the middle of town and wild trees growing around as well. Neighbors have given me bags of pecans from their own trees. Pecans are definitely my favorite nut followed by almonds. My mom used a recipe similar to the second one you gave but with 6 egg yolks, the custard was clear rather than cloudy. I still don't know how she accomplished this since she didn't want me in the kitchen when she made it. It's probably my favorite pie ever. She also made pecan pralines which are a southern U.S. specialty, I think they originated in New Orleans. Pralines are made with either a crisp caramelized sugar base or chewy. Both are delicious. My grandparents used pecans in their Aunt Bill Brown's fudge recipe. I still have the flat bottomed dutch oven they used but have never tried the recipe since it takes two people to stir the pot.

Thanks for the post.

Mama Hen said...

Ah, pecans - my favorite nut! We in Texas are rather jealous of our pecan pie prowess.
Enjoy reading your blog; it's fun and very informative.

Wiewelt said...

I'm just nutty over your choice this week.

Wiewelt said...

"Nuts!" (though unlike General McAuliffe, the sentiment is full of praise and compliments for your excellent week of posts)

Lapinbizarre said...

Pecans are common to the entire Southeastern United States, as is pecan pie. I understand - but you will have chapter & verse on this, where I do not - that butter, egg and sugar-based sweet pie fillings were common in 18th & early 19th century British cooking and that the present-day US pecan pie, in the form given in your second recipe, is a survival, and a delicious one, of that tradition.

Texas Nuts?

The Old Foodie said...

Thanks all! I love it when my posts trigger a wave of nostalgia!
You are right about the British tradition of sweet pies, Lapin. I think America has made sweet pies her own, however. In Britain and Australia the unquaified word 'pie' is usually taken to refer to a meat pie.