When beginning their preparations for the coming Autumn holidays, and considering desserts, most Americans think immediately of pumpkin pie. Allow me to suggest a second, perhaps more truly American alternative for your autumn celebrations: pecan pie.
Why "more truly American"? Well, OK it is true that the pumpkin is a "new world" fruit as well, but it is not originally from what is now the United States, and the pecan most certainly is. Even its scientific name, Carya Illinoensis, refers to its origin as the "Illinois Hickory."
In actuality though, it came from a little further south, probably a range from Arkansas to Texas. Fossils of pecans have been found in Texas that date back to before Native Americans arrived there. The earliest available writings on the pecan were by Cabeza de Vaca, a six-year captive of Native Americans roughly 500 years ago. His diary indicated that the natives planned their movements and activities around the maturity of the pecan nut.
Today's Texans will buy almost anything with pecans in it, and they purchase a vast majority of the country's butter pecan ice cream, which is darn tasty with the recipe below.
You'll find that this same method works with many different nuts, although the pecan is by far the most traditional.
1 1⁄4 cups all-purpose flour
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cold lard (accept no substitutes)
3 to 4 tablespoons ice water
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup chopped, toasted pecans
1 cup molasses (substitute 1 cup dark corn syrup if you like it really sweet)
1/3 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
To make the crust, stir together the flour and the 1⁄4 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. Cut in the cold lard with a fork or your fingers until the lard isabout the size of small peas.
Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the cold water over part of the mixture and gently toss with a fork. Push to the side of the bowl. Repeat until all of the dough is moistened. Form the dough into a ball.
On a lightly floured surface, flatten the dough with your hands. Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough from the center to the edges, forming a circle about 12 inches in diameter. Wrap the pastry around the rolling pin; unroll onto a 9-inch pie plate. Go easy here, being careful not to stretch or tear the pastry. Trim and flute the edge as desired.
Bake in the 450 degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden. Watch your edges, and cover them in foil to prevent them from burning before the rest of the shell is done. Cool on a wire rack. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.
To make the filling:
In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs with an electric mixer on medium speed about 1 minute or until the eggs are light and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat for 1 minute more. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the pecans, molasses, melted butter, vanilla and the salt; mix thoroughly.
Pour the filling into the pastry-lined pie plate.
Bake the pie in the 350 degree oven, with a sheetpan under it to catch drips, for about 50 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Remove the pie from the oven and cool on a wire rack.
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