Yesterday on Martin Luther King Jr. Day I learned (from several different sources) that King's favorite dessert was pecan pie. As well it should be!
I know that there are plenty of pecan pie haters out there. They claim that pecan pie is "gummy" and "too sweet" and that it's weird to make pie out of nuts. I think Martin Luther King Jr. himself would want us to understand and respect these opinions, even if we don't necessarily agree with them.
Pecan pie began as a traditional Southern dessert. The South is the home of all things pecan (and praline, and this northerner must confess that she's a little vague on the difference). Pecans are also famous in Texas, which isn't really the South, unless you want to count the accent.
Just like many nuts, pecans themselves are quite good for you in a number of different ways. Pecans have omega 6 fatty acids (although not to the extent that walnuts do). They have antioxidants and plant sterols that can reduce your cholesterol levels. According to the Wikipedia article, eating a handful of pecans daily can reduce your cholesterol levels nearly as well as taking a prescription medication.
So it turns out that pecan pie is health food! Hooray!
In most parts of the country, pecan pie is synonymous with Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. It is also well known in snack form as the tiny little pies in their miniature foil tins. These tiny snack pies are alright so far as they go, even though "shelf stable pie" isn't the most thrilling phrase in the English language.
The real problem with these miniature pecan pies is that they mess up the ratio of crust to filling. Basically you end up with one pie slice's worth of filling, which is entirely surrounded by crust. And I doubt many people feel that the crust is the best part of the pecan pie.
For the longest time I believed that pecan pie was tremendously difficult to make. I suspect I got this belief from my mother, who absolutely hated to cook, and who was given to lying about things she simply didn't want to make. Imagine my surprise to find out, well into adulthood, that a basic pecan pie can be made in about five minutes!
If you just want a simple pecan pie, all you really need is a pre-made pie crust, a lot of pecans, and a few basic ingredients. This recipe at AllRecipes is an excellent basic one, if you want to start simple. Here's a slightly more complicated one which you can use if you want to avoid corn syrup.
Pecan pie is one of those things where you basically mix everything together, then bake it. I love that kind of recipe!
One thing I haven't ever tried is pecan pie's cousin, the chess pie. Chess pie is basically pecan pie without the pecans, or so I have been told. Vinegar pie is a similar concoction, although a bit tart, as you might expect from the name.
Photo credit: Flickr/pierrotsomepeople