Southern Pecan Pie Recipe
My mother-in-law's land in the Piedmont of North Carolina came with a delicious treasure--a mature pecan tree. Every autumn, when the ripened husks open and the nuts fall to the ground, she gathers the fallen nuts by hand and spends hours shelling them.
Pecan trees grow plentifully throughout the Southeastern United States and are unique to the area--they do not naturally grow anywhere else in the world. The word "pecan" comes from the Algonquin Indian word paccan or pakan which means "all nuts requiring a stone to crack."
I like pecan nuts. They have a slightly sweet taste, especially when fresh. As a bonus, they are loaded with protein and monounsaturated fatty acids, which are widely recognized to protect against heart disease and lower cholesterol. They even offer phytochemicals that protect against diseases like diabetes and cancer. They are packed with vitamins and minerals. I had not realized until I moved to the South, however, that the very best thing about pecans is the delicious pie you can make with them.
My mother-in-law brought a pecan pie made from her hand-harvested pecans to our Thanksgiving celebration last year, and it was the perfect heavenly dessert. Sweet and nutty, it smelled like Autumn and tasted divine.
She also brought a big basket of unshelled pecans. We cracked them and picked out the meats, talking together as my infant son napped. I froze the nuts that we extracted that day, putting them away for later in the year when I was feeling nostalgic for pecan pie.
My husband and I pulled those pecans out of the freezer earlier this week and let them defrost, feeling that their time had come. We pulled together all of the pecan pie lore that we'd picked up over the years, and I did a lot more research into traditional Southern pecan pie. This recipe doesn't have any of the later additives like chocolate or bourbon. It is traditional Southern pecan pie, simple, nutty, sweet, and old-fashioned. I've learned a few tricks that give this pie a perfect texture, and sweetness. I hope you enjoy it as much as we have!
Southern Pecan Pie Recipe
- Pie shell / crust *
- 1/3 cup unsalted butter
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup Karo light corn syrup (white corn syrup)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/3 teaspoon salt
- 3 eggs
- 2 cups pecans
* For the pie shell / pie crust, I use this Perfect Pie Crust Recipe in an earthenware pie pan.
Optional. This step keeps the pecans from becoming chewy and makes a better pie, but you can skip it if you'd rather not use a microwave. I am normally loath to use a microwave, but, once I learned this tip for the pecans, I couldn't help but admit that it made a considerable improvement in the texture of the pie. Unfortunately I can't think of a different way to do the same thing, so microwave it is. It essentially roasts them and removes some of the moisture without darkening them or charring them. (You cannot roast them in a pan or toast them, because they will end up too cooked on the outside and will burn in the oven.)
Put half of the pecans (1 cup) on a plate in the microwave for one minute on high. Take them out and turn them over or stir them. Microwave them on high for one more minute. Then do the same steps with the other half of the pecans. Set aside.
You can use a pre-prepared crust that you buy at the grocery store, but I much prefer to make my own. Here is the recipe that I use for pie crust.
Once you have your pie shell prepared, mix 1 Tablespoon of water with one egg. Beat together. This mixture is called an egg wash. Brush the egg wash over the bottom and sides of the pie shell until covered. This will seal moisture into the pie.
Preheat the Oven:
Preheat the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degrees Celsius).
Mixing the Filling:
First, melt the butter and then put it in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add the brown sugar, Karo light syrup, vanilla, and salt. Mix them all together until smooth and completely blended.
In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, then add them to the filling mixture and stir together until thoroughly blended. It is important that all of the ingredients are mixed together well, or the pie may not solidify properly when cooking. Do not add the pecans yet!
Pour the filling into your pie crust (make sure you have first sealed it with an egg wash as described above). Sprinkle the pecans evenly across the surface of the pie. Some will sink and others will lie across the top. If you have the patience and would like to make the pie pretty, you can arrange the nuts in patterns.
First, wrap a thin strip of tin foil carefully around the pie plate and cup it over the crust edges so that it shields them but not the pie (this prevents the crust from burning).
Put the pie in your oven (pre-heated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit or 175 degrees Celsius). Bake for one hour to an hour and 15 minutes. At the 50-minute mark, carefully remove the pie (it may still be pretty runny, so be careful not to spill), and gently take the foil off so that the edges can brown at the end of cooking. Return pie to oven for at least ten more minutes, then start checking the pie every 5 minutes or so. It is done when the filling no longer jiggles when you move it, and if you insert a knife it comes out clean. Time varies by oven and baking dish.
When the pie is done, remove it from the oven and let it cool and set for at least an hour. Serve plain or with whipped cream or ice cream. Enjoy!