As I flew over Charlottesville last Thursday en route to Florida I took note of the fiery colors starting to present themselves in the trees below. The deep orange and bright yellow hues stood out in the dark green forest like fireworks in a midnight sky. Autumnal thoughts quickly left my mind as I jetted towards a weekend to be spent with family and friends in weather that required sundresses and sandals rather than corduroy pants and scarves. Outdoor dining options were declined in favor of cool indoor air conditioning as we all sipped punch made from honeydew, mint and ginger ale. The summertime frame of mind embedded itself so deeply in my subconscious that I boarded the flight home on Sunday in a tank top and flip flops, not thinking about the sub-50-degree air I would be greeted with as I deplaned at CHO.
Despite the 85-degree weather and ever-present green of my home state, during my visit last weekend there were a couple of clues that indicated the current season. The stores there all have the same picked-over Halloween costume aisles and sections devoted to Thanksgiving decorations as we have in Virginia. Restaurant menus show some seasonal specials featuring sweet potatoes and cranberries, and the slight drop in nighttime temperature has Floridians pulling out their lightweight fleece hoodies to protect themselves from the “cold”. The light has changed, lower and more golden that it was when I last visited a few months ago. But the indicator that hit home most with me, that brought back a flood of childhood memories of Autumn in Florida, was the giant box of full-size candy bars I noticed stashed close to the front door at my daddy’s house.
Growing up in Florida, Autumn had a very different feel than it does now that I live in Virginia. In my life now, Autumn means festivals and apple picking, changing leaves and layered clothing. We attend sheepdog trials and buy pumpkins from local farmers, plan parties with locally made hard cider and hand-dipped caramel apples. In Florida, in my youth, I remember the night air turning a little bit cooler and being very, very excited if I spotted a tree changing from green to a pale yellow-brown as I drove past on the interstate. I'd insist on wearing a sweater for Thanksgiving dinner no matter the temperature outside and the fact that I may sweat through it, and longed for a day when I could justify the purchase of a scarf. And then, of course, there was Halloween. For me, Autumn in Florida was all about Halloween.
The party planning started in September. Each year my parents and I (well, my parents, really) hosted a huge Halloween bash at our house, complete with haunted cemetery in the yard, costume contest, bobbing for apples or, when my friends and I all had braces, eating donuts hung from the rafters of our back porch with hands tied behind our backs. Evenings and weekends prior to the big day were spent with my father in the garage, drawing tombstone shapes on giant pieces of foam and cutting them out with a hot knife, the smell of melting styrofoam permeating the space for weeks. Daddy is a perfectionist, so the paint job those tombstones and the corresponding cemetery sign that arched high over the gate to our back yard received was perfect. That was one scary cemetery my friends had to walk through to get to the fun and games.
Come Halloween night, a few days after our party, my father gave, and still gives, full-size candy bars out to trick-or-treaters. Full-size. All of the neighborhood kids know about my dad and the top-notch treats he gives out, which means he buys a lot of candy bars. I enjoyed trick-or-treating as a child, but what I enjoyed even more as a young adult was staying home with Daddy, handing out those candy bars to the costumed youth and hearing the excited tone of their voices as they whispered to each other "see! I told you he gave out the good stuff!" I'd look over at Daddy, who would grin and chuckle and comment on all of their costumes as he dropped bars into their buckets, and smile with pride that I had the cool dad who gave out the good stuff.
That's my daddy, generous to a fault, always giving out the good stuff. Whether it be full-size candy bars to strangers on Halloween, time on the telephone working through digital camera and photography questions or unbelievably kind gifts, he's always striving to put a smile on the faces of those surrounding him. At this time of year, especially, I am nostalgic for my youth and the time I spent with him each fall, wishing I could fold his tradition of handing out full-size candy bars into my life now and regretting that we live in a neighborhood that trick-or-treaters don't visit. So instead, I made Daddy's favorite kind of pie and thought ahead to Thanksgiving, when we'll sit around the same table with Brian and all of my stepfamily and enjoy an Autumn meal together.
I tried out two different pecan pie recipes this week along with two different crusts. The first is more of an old-fashioned pecan pie, the filling made with dark brown sugar, butter, egg and a splash of bourbon with the pecan halves kept intact. The second pie filling consisted of a little bit of dark brown sugar paired with a lot more corn syrup, butterscotch chips, eggs and chopped pecans. They were both delicious, although there was a definite favorite amongst those surveyed at my office and in our home. I am hesitant to tell you which it was, as both recipes are great and I really recommend that you choose your favorite based on your own tastes.
Devoid of corn syrup, this pie has the dense texture that I associate with the old-fashioned pecan pie. It is sweet, being mostly sugar, but the bourbon adds a nice mild kick to the bite and a pleasant aftertaste that cuts the sweetness quite successfully.
Spirited Pecan Pie
adapted from bon appetit, october 2005
- one 9-inch pie crust, raw (see below for joy's no-roll pie crust that I used, or you can use any recipe that you are comfortable with)
- 2 cups (packed) dark brown sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
- 1 tbsp bourbon
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 cups pecan halves
- Preheat oven to 350*.
- Mix sugar, eggs, butter, bourbon, vanilla and cinnamon together in a bowl. Stir in the pecan halves. Pour filling into dough-lined dish.
- Bake pie until filling is slightly puffed and set in center, covering crust edges with foil if browning too quickly, about 40 minutes.
- Let pie cool completely before slicing.
With corn syrup used as the main sweetener and the addition of butterscotch chips, this pie is ultra-sweet. The filling is silkier than the pie above, and the chopped pecans make each bite more consistent in texture. I loved the addition of butterscotch in this pie, and know my daddy will too as he is a big fan of those little golden chips.
Butterscotch Pecan Pie
from Marijean of STL Working Mom. This pie received rave reviews at the C'ville Pie Fest - the inspiration for Bella Eats Pie Month - so I just had to try it.
- one partially pre-baked 9-inch flakey pie crust (I used the p-p-p perfect pie crust below, but you can use whatever recipe you are comfortable with)
- 1 cup light corn syrup
- 1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
- 1/2 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 1 cup butterscotch chips
- pinch of salt
- 3 large eggs
- 1 egg yolk
- 1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 cups chopped pecans
- Preheat your oven to 350*.
- In a medium saucepan on the stove top, warm the corn syrup, sugar, and butter over low heat until incorporated. Remove from heat and stir in butterscotch chips. Add pinch of salt and set aside for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- In another bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolk until frothy. Add vanilla and whisk again. Add your butterscotch mixture to the eggs and whisk until well incorporated. Add the chopped pecans, stirring until all are coated with butterscotch mixture.
- Pour filling into partially-baked pie crust. Bake in lower third of oven for 40 minutes.
- Allow to cool completely before cutting.
Joy is right - this pie crust is easy! If you're wanting to make a crust without much notice, or are intimidated by crusts that require rolling, this recipe is for you. The final texture was more crumbly than flakey and reminded me of the consistency of a shortbread cookie. But it held together nicely when sliced and has a pleasant, mild flavor.
No-Roll Pie Crust
from joy the baker
- 1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1/8 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 cup (4 tbsp) butter that has been grated on a cheese grater
- 1 tbsp cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 2 tbsp cold milk
- First, grate your butter on a cheese grater and place in the freezer.
- In a medium-sized bowl combine flour, salt, sugar and baking powder.
- Add frozen, grated butter and cream cheese. With your fingers, work the cream cheese and butter into the flour mixture, breaking up the butter and cream cheese so that the mixture resembles course breadcrumbs with some pea-sized bits of butter.
- Combine the milk and oil and whisk together. Add all at once to the flour/butter mixture and mix together gently with a fork, until all flour has been introduced to the liquid and the dough starts to come together in small clumps. It does not need to come together into a ball.
- Dump the dough mixture into your pie plate. With your fingers, press the dough against the bottom and up the sides of the dish. Try to get the dough as even as possible, but don't worry about finger indentations.
- Place the prepared crust in the freezer while you preheat your oven and prepare your filling. If you're going to pre-bake the crust, heat the oven to 350*and line the chilled pie crust with foil, weigh it down with pie weights or dried beans and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until golden brown, 5-10 minutes.
Ok, so this crust IS pretty perfect. It is an all-shortening crust, which I've never made before, and I was incredibly impressed with the flakey result. The flavor was delicious (although not as good as all butter, in my opinion) and the texture couldn't be beat . One warning, it shrinks with baking, as shortening literally "shortens" the gluten strands in the dough even more so than butter. Before pre-baking, the crust pictured below reached the top of my pie pan. So, be sure not to fill the crust as much as you normally would if you don't pre-bake.
P-P-P Perfect Pie Crust
from the pioneer woman
- 1-1/2 cups vegetable shortening (non-hydrogenated)
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 egg
- 5 tbsp cold water
- 1 tbsp white vinegar
- 1 tsp salt
- In a large bowl, gradually work the shortening into the flour with a pastry cutter (or 2 butter knives, or your fingers) until the mixture resembles a course breadcrumbs, about 3-4 minutes.
- In a small bowl, beat the egg with a fork then add it to the shortening mixture.
- Mix together your water and vinegar and salt, then add to the shortening mixture.
- Gently stir the ingredients together with a fork until they are well incorporated.
- Divide dough into two equal balls (I differed from the recipe here - it called for three balls but they seemed to be too small for a pie crust to me). Place each ball in a ziplock bag and use a rolling pin to flatten them each into a 1/2-inch thick disk. Seal the bags and place them in the freezer until you need them (for at least 30 minutes but up to 3 months).
- When you are ready to use the dough to make a crust, remove from the freezer and allow to thaw for 15 minutes. On a floured surface, roll out the dough starting from the center of the disk and working your way out, rotating the disk as you go to keep it round in shape. Sprinkle dough with flour if it is sticking to your rolling pin. (I did this on a sheet of parchment paper to make transfer to the pie dish very easy). You should have a circle of dough 13-inches in diameter for a 9-inch pie pan.
- Lift the dough carefully from the counter to place in the pie pan. (Or, if you've used parchment paper, turn your pie pan upside down on top of the dough, and carefully flip the dish and dough so that the dough is on top of and settles into the dish. Peel off the parchment paper.) Press the dough into the corners of the pan and pinch and press the edge.
- Set your oven to 350*. Prick the dough bottom with a fork in several places for ventilation. Line your dough in your pan with aluminum foil, then place pie weights or dried beans on top of the foil. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove the pie weights and the foil and bake for 5 minutes more if only partially pre-baking. To fully pre-bake, bake without foil until the crust is a golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before filling.
I've decided to extend Bella Eats Pie Month into November for one more week, so be sure to visit next Thursday for the last installment, Coconut Cream Pie, along with a review of Mrs. Rowe's Little Book of Southern Pies by Mollie Cox Bryan.
And, I'll have a special Halloween post for you tonight or tomorrow morning, so be sure to tune back in!