Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Dessert Wars

Pecan Pie
Blackberry Cobbler
Peach Cobbler
Pecan Pralines
Texas Sheet Cake
Buttermilk Pie
Texas Soggy Cake (Tres Leches)
Banana Pudding
Apricot Fried Pies
Sweet Potato Pie
Homemade Ice Cream (vanilla, fresh peach, or fresh strawberry)
Bread Pudding (Capriotada)

I was thinking about dessert a few days ago (actually I think about it all of the time), and I realized I have 12 “go to” treats on my list.  Oh, believe me, there are many more on the list, but these 12 are my favorites.  The next 75 or so just barely missed the top 12, and the remainder is not to be ignored.  I decided to do some on-line research as to the preferences Texans have for dessert, and I wasn’t exactly surprised to find similar listings among other Texans.  If anything tops the lists it’s the pecan pie, but all others were very well represented.

Many other desserts showed up as favorites as well.  The pound cake, date cake, apple pie, etc.  The list is long, but the list I made is very representative of the basic Texas desserts.  My intention is not to make this into a “pie fight,” but to highlight a few of the approaches Texans take to satisfy the sweet tooth.  The title of this article is not about people fighting over dessert, but the difficulty I have in choosing one.

I like dessert, and one look at my recipe files will substantiate that claim.  If there is only one dessert available, I have no problem, but if there are two, my only choice is to have some of each.  Three desserts and I’m in trouble, although I will somehow find room for each one.  Four?  Oh, boy.

Long ago someone asked me to write my motto for life.  I thought about this for a long time, and I considered many things.  I examined my world of business.  I thought about my years of hunting and fishing.  I searched deeply into my religion.  I also considered all the good things one can be involved with, and well as the mundane things.  But the one thing that kept coming back to me was the brevity of life.  In the end I wrote, “Life is short.  Eat dessert first,” after which I immediately drove to a bakery and purchased a pecan pie.

My great-aunt Gertrude was a wonderful cook.  She was working as the cook for the old Circle X Ranch outside of Fort Worth when she met and married my great-uncle John.  The year they married was 1907.  She was expected to keep the family and ranch hands well fed, and I like to think my uncle (a ranch hand) was so happy with what he was eating he married the cook.

Anyway, she always made pies, especially pecan pies.  I don’t remember going to visit them when a pecan pie wasn’t readily available.  After my uncle passed away, she never again made her great pies.  But she passed on the recipes.

Circle X Pecan Pie

Beat together butter with a big scoop of sugar.  Add eggs until creamy.  Mix some chopped pecans with a bit of flour.  Mix everything together with some salt and corn syrup.  Pour into a piecrust and bake until done.

I watched her make this pie more than once, and the following is how I’ve written the recipe.  The finished pie is very close to the original.  I think the difference is because of her wood-burning stove—and something only a great-aunt can put into a pie for her wide-eyed nephew.

Serves 8.

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon butter                                           
1 1/2 cups sugar                                               
5 large eggs                                                   
1/4 teaspoon salt                                              
1 cup corn syrup (light or dark.  I prefer dark.)                                               
1 cup pecans, finely chopped                                   
1 tablespoon all purpose flour    
1 (8-inch) unbaked pie shell                            

Cream the butter and sugar.  Mix in the eggs one at a time and beat until smooth.  Mix the flour in with the pecans, and then mix everything together.  Pour into an unbaked 8-inch pie shell.  Bake at 375F for 35 to 40 minutes.

Aunt Gertrude used corn syrup in her recipes, but commercial corn syrup was not readily available when she worked at the Circle X Ranch.  I don’t know if the ranch made their own corn syrup (a distinct possibility), or if she used some other type of syrup originally.  But by the time I was watching her make the pies she was using corn syrup.
This is an old-style pecan pie.  Today’s pecan pies are usually larger (9-inch, deep-dish) and fancier (pecan halves, praline, etc.), but this old-style pie is pure Texas.

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