I love to cook.
I’m from the South and most of us southern women enjoy fun times in the kitchen. Actually, I’m not sure why Kentucky is considered part of the South, as It’s really more of a mid-Atlantic state. Regardless, I’m proud to be from the area. Sure, we have a pronounced accent, most of our ancestors originated from the Scottish Highlands, and we’re known for our fierce determination. ( I prefer using those words rather than “stubborn.” )
My mother, along with her sisters, are excellent cooks. Whether it’s having a litany of dessert recipes that are considered “top secret,” or possessing the innate ability to “eyeball it” and make the perfect casserole, I’ve learned a great deal from them all. I don’t believe a single year has gone by when I didn’t call one of them and request a recipe. And since I now live in New Mexico, I miss getting free samples of their latest sweet treats as well as fresh garden produce. My sweet mom was kind enough to actually mail me fresh green beans this summer, since white half-runners or fall green beans are practically non-existent.
Recently, in preparation for the holidays, I found myself once again reaching out for a staple recipe. This time it involved contacting my aunt Wevena, as she’s the queen of cakes and pies in my family. Whether it’s her to-die-for butterscotch pie or her perfect buttercream frosting, she’s a magician with sugar. I suppose I should point out that this particular aunt is 83 years old and a texting queen. She’s always been the one to stay up on the latest technology. Whether it’s texting on a smart phone or programming a printer, she figures it out with keen curiosity. But on this particular occasion, I needed her recipe for Pecan Pie.
While I like to consider myself a decent Southern cook, I’ll be the first to admit there’s one title in which I’ll never own: good baker. I’m not sure what’s up with my relationship with flour, but it’s never been a good one. Sure, I can whip up a few select sweet recipes, but that’s about as far as it gets. Past those tried and true recipes, my cakes crater, my brownies burn and my cookies fall so flat and run together that it’s like a science experiment gone bad. My gingerbread men put a whole new spin on the phrase “blended family.” No, it’s not pretty.
But as for a pecan pie recipe, my aunt made it sound incredibly simple. She’d even messaged me a photograph of her magazine-worthy pie. No pressure.
It was at that point I set out my ingredients, tied on my apron, and looked at my oven as a warrior would their opponent. “O.K. Let’s do this. GAME ON.” I quietly whispered, with hands on hips. I felt confident I’d be victorious. Eggs? Check. Melted Butter? Check. The perfect combination of white and dark syrups? Check. Homemade Pie Crust? Uh, that would be a NO. I went with a prepared one, as that’s just how I roll, er, don’t roll.
I felt so confident in my baking skills that I decided to add a “secret” ingredient: bourbon. I’d seen it listed in several pecan pie recipes and thought I'd be a daredevil and deliver the recipe a sucker punch. I was determined to make this pie an Angie Special.
Oh, it was an Angie Special for sure.
About 35 minutes into the 60-70 minute requirement, the center of pie began growing…and growing…and bubbling…an running down the sides of the pie plate. It was too the point I began wondering if Chernobyl was lurking inside my oven. My hands got sweaty and my heart raced. I knew my friends were counting on me to bring to my "special pecan pie” to dinner.
I got a sinking feeling that things were quickly going down hill.
It was then I decided to rescue the pie from the oven a bit earlier than the recipe instructed. I figured I should prevent the catastrophe from causing any further damage to my pride, not to mention the bottom of my oven. But after I set the pie on a cooling rack, the strangest thing happened. The center of the pie, which had earlier looked like an active volcano, began to calm down and eerily settle back into the pie shell. Had this evil pie finally decided to surrender to my will?
I tried to jiggle it slightly, as my aunt had instructed, to test its readiness. Sadly, I discovered it was nowhere near set. Instead of a subtle jello-jiggle, it practically sloshed around like a bowl of soup. Again, not good.
Exasperated by its underhanded maneuvers, I decided to shove the dessert back into the oven once more. “Take THAT, you dumb pie!” and proceeded to slam the over door.
I was ready to wave the white flag on this whole fiasco. There was even a faint whisper of my conscience saying, “Pull yourself together, Angie. Lace up those sneakers and go buy one at the bakery. Forget this nonsense.”
But I refused to listen to such banter.
I eventually took my pecan pie from the oven and it actually looked…well…awful. However, it wasn’t burned and had actually “jelled” the way it was supposed to. Yes! Of course the crust was covered with syrupy blistered battled scars, but I tried to ignore that small fact. My pecan pie didn’t exactly wind up in the victory column, but it was a step in the right direction.
It was only then that I decided to throw on my coat and drive to the supermarket. Oh, I wasn’t about to cave in and purchase a store-made pie, but I decided to do something more radical: I bought even more pie ingredients. This stubborn Scottish gal does not give up so easily.
In the next go around, I followed the recipe to the letter, but with one small exception: I remembered I was living at a higher altitude than KY and made a slight adjustment to the temperature of the oven. Oh, and this time—no BOURBON! Seventy minutes later, miss Angie had a pecan pie in which she was so very proud. Sadly, I didn’t take a photo of the pretty one, but my friends loved it, which was the most important aspect.
My persnickety pecan pie problem could teach us all a small lesson. There’s a reason God’s word was written for us and has lasted all these years. He knows every single one of his children and what’s best for us. He knows we need a great deal of guidance, some of us more than others.
Without fail, when we try and deviate off course and do things “our way,” things tend to get ugly or sadly, quite painful. Ignore God’s word and the needs of your spouse? Prepare to be met with anger and alienation. Mistreat your body, not viewing it as a temple? Prepare for weight problems, health scares and costly prescriptions to fill. Ignore God’s word about idle gossip and stick your nose where it doesn't belong? Prepare to feel the backlash of losing friends or being seen by others as a trouble maker.
Yes, there’s a good reason for rule following.
The next time you feel tempted to veer off the marked path, think of yours truly and her pecan pie explosion. You can prevent many of life’s disasters by simply following directions. Pray and seek guidance. Perhaps you should consider talking with an older friend who’s had more experience with similar problems you’re facing?
But then, sweet sister, tie on your apron and enjoy cooking in God’s kitchen. You will never be perfect, but you CAN enjoy every morsel of life that God provides. Take joy in knowing He loves you regardless of your imperfections. The key is that you TRY.
Below is my aunt’s Pecan Pie recipe, if you so dare. And again, BE BRAVE!
Brightest of Blessings,
Aunt Wevena’s Pecan Pie
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
1 ½ cups karo syrup (1/2 cup dark, 1 cup light)
5 eggs slightly beaten
1 ¼ cup white sugar (if you don’t like it overly sweet, then 1 cup)
5 tbsp melted butter
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups coarsely chopped pecans
Mix all together, adding pecans last.
Pour into unbaked deep dish pie shell and bake for 70-75 minutes. (For higher elevations, bake 10-15 min longer. Trust me! )
Let cool for 2 hrs.